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Recent Screenings Highlight the Prevalence of Sleep Disorders

In a previous post on this blog, we called attention to two recent commuter train crashes in order to illustrate the fact that inadequate sleep isn’t just unhealthy, it’s dangerous. In both of those crashes, one in New York in 2013 and the other just last year in Hoboken, NJ – it was determined that the engineers suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, which apparently led to each man passing out on the job.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s findings led to reforms at both the Long Island Railroad and the New Jersey Transit Authority. Our previous post noted that LIRR had initiated screening of its employees for sleep disorders, and that by the last week of September, nine cases of sleep apnea had been identified after screenings were completed of just 34 individuals.

Now, the Associated Press has reported on similar screenings that have been completed on 373 New Jersey Transit engineers. Of these, 57 apparently showed signs of sleep disorders and were consequently taken out of service pending further testing and appropriate interventions. Although 13 were ultimately found to not have diagnosable disorders, another 41 were confirmed as having sleep apnea and then provided with treatment that allowed them to return to work.

The remaining three engineers are still out of service as they continue to suffer from sleep disorders that pose a risk to their health and well-being, as well as the safety of people around them. Their story should serve as a warning to other people, regardless of their professions, regarding the prevalence and potential severity of undiagnosed sleep disorders.

That warning may seem all the more serious when you consider the 13 individuals who were briefly removed from service, presumably for showing signs of fatigue. Even in absence of chronic disorders, poor-quality sleep can mimic the consequences of sleep apnea and pose its own danger, albeit a lesser one.

As we’ve emphasized many times in this blog, if you suspect you may suffer from a sleep disorder, it is imperative that you consult with a physician. But even if you’re getting inadequate sleep for other reasons, you may still face a significant threat to your health and safety. In that case, it is no less important for you to make a personal effort to address the reasons why you may not be getting good sleep, even if none of those reasons is sleep apnea.


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