Veterans & Sleep Apnea
Too Great a Risk: Why Our Military and Veterans Aren’t Getting the Sleep They Deserve
Research in the field of sleep medicine has often looked at specific groups of people who are put in high-risk situations when they are sleep deprived. We have all seen news headlines about trains derailing or semi trucks running off of the road due to drivers falling asleep. When people in these positions are sleep-deprived, the consequences can affect us all.
Two groups that deserve more attention when it comes to sleep problems are our active duty military and veterans. According to a 2017 study in the Federal Practitioner, a journal for military healthcare professionals, members of the military represent a distinct group that must be relied on to maintain focus and extreme vigilance even in very stressful environments. Tasks such as operating military machinery or going into combat require focus and concentration that goes beyond the norm. It is, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), “essential for our military personnel to be alert when on duty or during combat.” The length and quality of sleep they get will heavily influence their performance and readiness. Similarly, our military veterans experience conditions that impact their quality of sleep, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. After facing combat, injury, loss of companions and stress over their families, veterans tend to bring these problems home to their beds. Current research in the field of sleep medicine is looking at why sleep disorders are so great in these populations and what can be done to improve our military and veterans’ sleep.
According to a 2014 study in Military Medicine, about 80% of military personnel experience sleep disturbances, and the NSF reports that 85% of active duty military have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea or both. Those are staggering figures. For members of the military, sleep is short and often interrupted. In fact, the same Military Medicine study reported that military personnel sleep 6 hours or less at night. There are a variety of reasons for this, which range from performing shift work, traveling frequently across time zones, alternating the use of caffeine and sedatives, exposure to traumatic events, and suffering from sleep disorders, notes the Federal Practitioner study. This cumulative loss of sleep can have disastrous effects for our military personnel, possibly even decreasing a unit’s effectiveness.
Veterans are similarly sleep-deprived, although the causes can be somewhat different. In fact, a 2013 study in the journal CHEST, found that sleep disturbances are one of the top complaints of veterans returning from deployment. This study found that insomnia and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) are frequently diagnosed together in military personnel referred for a sleep evaluation. This group was also more likely to be depressed, suffer from mild traumatic brain injury, pain and posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. All of these conditions are associated with sleep disorders, so it is no wonder veterans aren’t sleeping well. For veterans dealing with a sleep disorder and PTSD, the consequences can be damaging and even fatal. The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that the combination can lead to suicidal tendencies, chronic anxiety and stress, substance abuse and overall poor quality of life.
At the Koala Center for Sleep Disorders, we believe our active duty military and veterans deserve a better night’s sleep. A sleep disorder such as OSA is a serious problem that interferes with a soldier’s ability to do his or her job, and it’s not a problem they should have to deal with once they return from service either. Cases of sleep apnea have increased by five times in the U.S. military over the past decade Journal of Sleep Research, and it’s important that active duty and veteran military members get the proper screening needed to evaluate and treat these conditions. While the government is working to increase screening for sleep disorders in the military, it is important to seek help if you’re not sleeping well.
If you or a family member are concerned you might have a sleep disorder such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is characterized by heavy snoring and frequent breathing interruptions during sleep, consider asking your doctor for a sleep study. At the Koala Center for Sleep Disorders our doctors and dental staff treat OSA with Oral Appliance Therapy. Oral Appliance Therapy offers a comfortable and non-invasive treatment option that is also more convenient, easier to travel with and less cumbersome than many traditional treatment methods for sleep apnea.