It’s no secret that military veterans often suffer from poor sleep quality. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the number of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can range from 11 to a staggering 30 percent, depending on their era of service. And PTSD isn’t the only condition that interrupts sleep, either.
As reported by medical news publication Healio as many as 41 percent of veterans experience poor sleep quality. Most often, this is the result of either insomnia disorder or obstructive sleep apnea. Today, we’re going to talk about what’s involved in treating the latter — because it’s not just disruptive, it’s potentially life-threatening.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea actually refers to several different conditions. However, all three have the same core symptom of involuntary, disordered breathing during sleep. In layman’s terms, this means that while sleeping, you have a tendency to randomly stop breathing.
As you might expect, this can have incredibly serious consequences. It comes hand in hand with many of the standard health risks of sleep deprivation. These include memory issues, increased anxiety and depression, an increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, weight gain, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.
As mentioned, there are three ‘types’ of sleep apnea.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Reportedly the most common type of sleep apnea, OSA occurs when one’s airways become blocked during sleep. This causes the brain to partially awaken in an effort to breathe through the obstruction. In severe cases, a victim can experience 30 or more such interruptions each hour.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). While the causes of OSA are generally physical, CSA is tied to an issue with the brain. For one reason or another, CSA sufferers experience a sort of ‘short’ in the brain, which effectively forgets to breathe while they sleep.
- Mixed/Complex Sleep Apnea. Essentially, this is a combination of both OSA and CSA. It’s often one of the most difficult types of sleep apnea to treat.
Some signs and symptoms that you might be suffering from one of the above forms of sleep apnea include:
- Extremely loud snoring
- Intermittent choking and gasping while asleep
- Excessive fatigue during daytime hours
- Waking up every morning with a headache
- Restless sleep, often with a lack of dreams
- Unusually high levels of anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
It’s also important to understand the common risk factors of sleep apnea. It’s significantly more common in men than it is in women, and the majority of people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. Other factors that may increase your risk of developing sleep apnea include hypertension, smoking, family history, diabetes, narrowed airways, or chronic nasal congestion.
Why Is Sleep Apnea So Prevalent Amongst Veterans?
According to Advanced Sleep Medicine Services, a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, the prominence of sleep apnea amongst veterans is tied to several factors. First, over the course of their career, they are likely to be exposed to excessive levels of dust or chemical fumes, which can cause impaired breathing and chronic nasal congestion. There also appears to be a close link between PTSD and sleep apnea, and afflicted veterans are approximately 45 percent likelier to develop the latter if they suffer from the former.
Veterans may also be likelier to suffer from some of the more common risk factors of sleep apnea, including hypertension and nicotine addiction.
How To Treat Sleep Apnea
Generally, OSA is treated through the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. These devices basically use a mask or nose-piece to promote consistent airflow within the throat and nasal passages. CSA is a bit more complicated, and usually requires an evaluation of what secondary and tertiary conditions may be the root cause, although CPAPs can often be helpful, as well.
If you’re a veteran suffering from sleep apnea, you’ll first need an official diagnosis from a medical professional, and proof that the condition was either worsened or caused by your active service. From there, you can file a disability claim with the VA. Once your claim is approved, you can potentially receive both treatment and compensation.
Aside from using a CPAP, you can likely mitigate your condition by addressing the underlying causes, whatever those may be.