BACKGROUND: Debate regarding the merits of screening pilots for sleep apnea has been stimulated by recently issued guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration. It has long been appreciated that sleep apnea results in poor quality sleep, and that poor quality sleep is associated with daytime fatigue and decrements in performance. However, the relationship between sleep apnea and poor performance, including risk for accidents is not as well understood. Good quality data are available for commercial truck drivers and have helped influence transportation policy, but there is a lack of pilot specific data. The purpose of this article is to review the basic epidemiology, pathophysiology, and treatment of sleep apnea, including major risk factors for apnea, such as body mass index (BMI), and to look at what is known about the impact of sleep apnea on performance in transportation related occupations. While pilot specific data may be lacking, good quality data for commercial truckers are available and can be used to formulate rational public policy with the goal of improving aviation safety. This article was reviewed by the Council of the Aerospace Medical Association and approved as a position paper of the Association.
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