7 Myths About Sleep Apnea and the Facts Behind Each of Them

man sleeping in bed

Here are seven of the most common myths surrounding sleep apnea and the facts that underscore each one.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects people from all walks of life and in all industries – and particularly in the commercial driving space. Studies show that almost 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea.

Despite its prevalence in the world today, there are still many different myths and misconceptions surrounding sleep apnea. Addressing and understanding the truths behind each of these misconceptions is crucial for promoting awareness and understanding of the disorder.

Here are seven of the most common myths surrounding sleep apnea and the facts that underscore each one.

Myth #1: Only overweight or older individuals can have sleep apnea.

Fact: While excess weight and aging can certainly be prominent risk factors, sleep apnea can affect individuals of any age, body type, or gender. Excess weight, particularly around the neck, can contribute to airway obstruction during sleep – but it's not the sole determinant.

There are several other factors that can contribute to the development of sleep apnea, even within thin and fit individuals. These include family history, anatomical features (such as a narrow airway or a thick neck), smoking, alcohol and sedative use, and certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism or hormonal disorders.

Myth #2: Snoring is harmless and doesn't indicate a serious sleep disorder.

Fact: While not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, loud and persistent snoring can be a telltale symptom. The idea that any and all types of snoring are harmless is a common misconception that can prevent individuals from recognizing potentially associated health risks.

Benign, occasional snoring may be harmless and linked to factors like sleeping position or nasal congestion. However, habitual, loud snoring that involves gasping or choking sounds should raise concerns and prompt further investigation.

Myth #3: Sleep apnea only affects people who snore loudly.

Fact: While loud snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores audibly. Silent apneas, where breathing stops without snoring, can also occur.

In such cases, the absence of audible snoring can lead to a false sense of security, and individuals may remain unaware of their sleep apnea.

Myth #4: Sleep apnea is just a minor annoyance and doesn't require treatment.

Fact: Untreated sleep apnea can have serious health consequences. It is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and accidents due to daytime sleepiness – which is of particular concern for commercial drivers who spend long hours on the road. In fact, statistics indicate that commercial drivers with untreated sleep apnea are five times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Sleep apnea has also been linked to metabolic disturbances, including insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The disruption of normal sleep patterns can impact hormonal regulation and glucose metabolism, as well.

On the mental health side, untreated sleep apnea can contribute to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. The truth is that the chronic sleep deprivation and oxygen desaturation associated with sleep apnea can have a profound effect on your overall well-being.

Myth #5: You would already be aware if you had sleep apnea.

Fact: In reality, many individuals with sleep apnea may not be aware of their condition.

In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of sleep apnea, individuals experience partial awakening during breathing pauses. However, these awakenings are often brief and may not be accompanied by full consciousness. As a result, the person may not remember waking up during the night. Commercial truck drivers also spend many nights alone on the road with no one around to help notice the more prominent signs and symptoms of sleep apnea.

Myth #6: Only individuals with severe symptoms need treatment for sleep apnea.

Fact: In reality, the severity of symptoms is just one factor considered in determining the appropriate course of treatment for sleep apnea. It’s also important to note that the severity of symptoms can vary, and even mild cases of sleep apnea can have significant health consequences.

Sleep apnea is a progressive disorder, and symptoms can worsen over time if left untreated. Individuals with mild symptoms may eventually experience an escalation in the severity of their condition, making it absolutely essential to seek medical advice if you are showing any signs or symptoms of sleep apnea.

Myth #7: You will lose your CDL if you have sleep apnea.

Fact: Drivers diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea can achieve CDL sleep apnea compliance by undergoing CPAP therapy and demonstrating compliance through monitoring.

Drivers are required to undergo regular medical examinations to maintain their Commercial Driver's License (CDL), during which medical examiners assess whether any medical condition, including sleep apnea, could compromise a driver's ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Fortunately, most cases of sleep apnea can be successfully treated. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common and effective treatment method that significantly alleviates sleep apnea symptoms.

Undergo Easy Home Sleep Apnea Testing with WorkSTEPS Sleep

Drivers can quickly qualify for CDL renewal by testing for sleep apnea with WorkSTEPS Sleep. Our home sleep test is not only the most advanced, but it also uses the least equipment, allowing you to test comfortably in your own bed in just one night.

Order an FDA-approved home sleep apnea test kit today to get yours with free delivery.

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Newsletter written by WorkSTEPS CMO Dr. Ben Hoffman and WorkSTEPS’ expert medical team.