What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that affects a person’s breathing during sleep, restricting airflow through the respiratory system and lowering oxygen levels in the body. 

Medical professionals recognize three types of apnea, with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) being the most commonly diagnosed in civilians and veterans. Although some risk factors are well known for their role in the development of sleep apnea, the links between sleep disorders in military service are often more complex. 

Getting a Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

The symptoms of a sleep condition usually present themselves during active service or immediately after returning to civilian life. 

However, there are cases documented where the onset of symptoms can be delayed, usually based on the condition’s underlying causes. Apnea brought as a result of direct injury, for example, may lead to an immediate presentation of symptoms more frequently than apnea caused by a long-term mental health issue such as PTSD, which may leave patients waiting on a trigger to experience symptoms. 

Misdiagnosis of sleep disorders can also contribute to delays in veterans seeking support, leading to further delays in treatment and potential compensation or benefits for disability payments.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Caused By Military Service?

Like many areas of Sleep Medicine and Science, the relationship between veterans and sleep disorders remains largely unknown. Continued advancements in these fields of study have led many patients and their medical teams to understand some of the causes and options available to support them, leading to an increase in diagnosis, better health prospects, and eligibility for Veteran Awards (VA) payments. One particular condition that has seen an uptick in recognition is sleep apnea military disability, which is increasingly diagnosed among veterans due to heightened awareness and improved screening methods.

However, from the adjustment to life outside of service to more serious issues as a result of injury and trauma – there are many reasons military staff may struggle to sleep during the night. In fact, many veterans are diagnosed with sleep apnea after military service, which can significantly impact their quality of life and may be linked to their time in the service.

Due to a lack of information, Ex-veterans can find it difficult to seek diagnosis and treatments for their sleep-related troubles. It is crucial to bridge this information gap to ensure that veterans receive the care and support they need for conditions like sleep apnea, which is a recognized military disability.

How Research Links Sleep Apnea to Military Service

To increase awareness of sleep issues in the military, it’s worth understanding how common they are for veterans. Studies published in recent years have portrayed a reality of how difficult achieving a good standard of rest can be for veterans and how many still live with unmanaged sleep disorders. 

A report published by the Health of Force in 2021 suggested that 9 percent of soldiers suffer from a sleep disorder, while screenings carried out by the Journal Of Clinical Sleep Medicine the same year found 52.1% of veterans screened (420 total subjects) tested positive for Sleep Apnea. 

Although significant work has been carried out to increase the screening of Obstructive Sleep Apnea for patients in active service, the support for veterans after returning to civilian life is often primarily the responsibility of the patients themselves.

Benefits of Supporting Veterans With Sleep Apnea

Seeking help for a sleep disorder and its ongoing symptoms can help veterans achieve better sleep and improve their health. 

Patients suffering from sleep apnea have been seen to find improvement in career prospects, relationships, and an overall better quality of life through the management of their condition. 

For veterans, a diagnosis can also mean access to further support systems, compensation, and benefits where eligible for support in ongoing medical costs and supporting loss of income. Funds paid vary widely on a case-by-case basis, considering the degree of disability, marital status, and close family members.

Sleep Apnea is a Common Reason For Veteran Disability Support

Data released in the VA 2022 Annual Benefits Report revealed more than 500,00 veterans received VA disability benefits for sleep apnea. Despite this, the process has many challenges, requiring detailed preparation of documentation and evidence. 

At Sleep Apnea Solutions, we help support patients through the complexities of a sleep apnea diagnosis, providing home sleep testing, alternative treatment options, and long-term management of sleep disorders. 

How Sleep Apnea is Connected to Miltary Service

Two crucial elements need to be considered as part of any VA benefits application: a formal diagnosis and evidence of how it was caused by military service. 

Unsurprisingly, the challenges for proving a sleep condition caused by military service become more difficult for veterans who delayed their diagnosis or faced challenges of misdiagnosis of other conditions. This is why it’s important for anyone facing sleep disorder symptoms to seek medical guidance and testing for the appropriate screening of the condition.

Home Sleep Testing With Sleep Apnea Solutions

The first step to receiving a confirmed diagnosis is to book an appointment with a dedicated sleep expert and discuss your options for a sleep study. 

The Intersection of Mental Health and Sleep Apnea in Military Personnel

1) Problems with PTSD and Sleep Apnea For Veterans

Exposure to stress and trauma is a part of the job, but the impact doesn’t stop the effects of stress from taking a toll on the body. Veterans have increased risks of suffering from mental health issues, especially with conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The PTSD rating system is used to assess the severity of a veteran’s condition, which can be crucial for determining the level of benefits and support they receive.

Research into the relationship between PTSD and sleep disorders such as apnea has found issues frequently start within the brain as a result of lower growth hormone (GH) levels in the body. The imbalance may cause patients to awaken often during sleep, similar to disruption caused by sleep apnea episodes and night terrors of PTSD. In some cases, the use of a CPAP machine is recommended to help veterans manage sleep apnea symptoms and improve their overall quality of sleep.

Treatment Options For PTSD and Sleep Apnea

In many cases for veterans struggling with PTSD and Sleep Apnea, it can be difficult to know which condition to treat for the best patient outcome. As these conditions can often lead to similar symptoms for the person affected, such as nighttime awakenings, low mood, and daytime fatigue, medical professionals suggest the most beneficial approach is to treat both conditions simultaneously. Moreover, for veterans, this comprehensive treatment approach may also impact their VA disability rating, as both PTSD and Sleep Apnea can be service-connected conditions that affect their overall health and quality of life. It is not uncommon for veterans to be diagnosed with sleep apnea after military service, which can further complicate their health issues and the management of their symptoms. Addressing sleep apnea military disability is crucial in ensuring that veterans receive the appropriate care and support they need.

2) Mental Health and Sleep Apnea

Although PTSD is a common diagnosis in veteran communities, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide are all potential risk factors. 

Mental Health conditions are widely known among military personnel, with research by RAND suggesting veterans who experienced deployment are more prone to mental health and cognitive conditions. 

Unfortunately, mental health conditions can be closely linked to Sleep Apnea, with depression often seen as a secondary condition in apnea cases and low mood and anxiety often presenting as common symptoms. 

Sleep Apnea Diagnosis For Mental Health Patients

Unfortunately, veterans who seek help for apnea symptoms, especially if they are previously diagnosed or presenting with mental health issues, can face difficulties differentiating symptoms of the two conditions. This is particularly challenging for those who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea after military service, as they must navigate the complexities of both their mental health and sleep disorder.

The rate of mental health conditions and sleep apnea cases diagnosed have both risen significantly for patients across the US, with many patients’ sleep disturbances misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety rather than as part of a sleep condition. Sleep apnea military disability is an important consideration, as it acknowledges the unique challenges faced by veterans who develop sleep apnea as a result of their service.

If you’re concerned about ongoing symptoms of sleep disturbances, low mood, and other signs of apnea, use our Sleep Apnea Screener to start your sleep assessment. 

3) Adjusting to Sleep Schedules After Military Service

Adjusting from the structured routine of the services to day-to-day life at home can be a struggle for many soldiers and veterans. Consider the differences in environment, schedule, and demands on the body.

Early morning starts and structured routines may no longer be a part of everyday life, and daily activities are likely to be as less strenuous as during active service. As the body adjusts to all these new changes, different climates and time zones will only cause further disruption to the internal rhythms that influence sleep cycles. As a result, short-term insomnia and sleep disruption are common and usually non-serious for military staff during this adjustment period. However, these can become problematic when they are misdiagnosed in the place of patients living with chronic sleep disorders, such as being diagnosed with sleep apnea after military service. In some cases, these sleep issues may be related to PTSD, which is a significant concern for those who have experienced intense exposure to combat or other traumatic events during their service. It is crucial for veterans to receive a proper VA disability rating for such conditions, as it can affect their access to necessary support and benefits. Moreover, understanding and acknowledging sleep apnea military disability is essential, as it is a condition that can have serious health implications and may require specific treatments and accommodations.

More Than Deployment-Related Insomnia?

Although insomnia presents in 27-54% of both military personnel and veterans (National Library of Medicine 2017), apnea is one of the three most frequently diagnosed conditions reported in veterans who struggle with sleep disorders. Insomnia frequently presents as a symptom for many apnea patients, as well as those struggling with mental health issues and during the adjustment period to civilian life. 

As it can be a regular culprit in the misdiagnosis of apnea and other similar sleep conditions, patients need to undergo sleep testing if they experience insomnia alongside any other common apnea symptoms.

Review our detailed Sleep Apnea pages for further information on spotting the signs and symptoms of the condition. 

4) Sleeping Troubles After an Injury

Injury is a common cause of sleep issues, whether agonizing pain keeping you up at night or difficulty relaxing after processing the events experienced during service. 

Unfortunately, for patients who have experienced significant trauma to the body, especially head injuries, explosions, or direct impact, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can occur and lead to the development of both Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea. Apnea’s links to TBI can be found in both forms of the sleep disorder, affecting one in three patients with a current brain injury and increasing the risk of development of TBI for veterans formally diagnosed with Sleep Apnea. Moreover, veterans with TBI may see an impact on their VA disability rating, as the severity of their condition, including the presence of sleep disorders, is taken into account when determining compensation levels. This is particularly relevant for those seeking sleep apnea military disability benefits, as the connection between service-related injuries and sleep apnea is well-recognized.

For those with Sleep Apnea, the use of a CPAP machine is often recommended to ensure a better quality of sleep and to reduce the health risks associated with the condition. This machine can be particularly beneficial for veterans who have sustained injuries in service, as it helps to alleviate the symptoms of Sleep Apnea, which their service-related health issues may compound. It is not uncommon to be diagnosed with sleep apnea after military service, and recognizing this condition early can be crucial for maintaining health and receiving appropriate treatment.

Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea in Brain Injury Patients

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is commonly found in patients who present with mild to severe cases of TBI after experiencing a stroke or injury, likely due to a lack of coordination of the throat muscles following the medical event.

For Central Sleep Apnea cases, damage caused by TBI may result in injury to the brainstem and disrupt the signals that control breathing. Veterans diagnosed with sleep apnea after military service often face challenges, as the condition may be a result of or exacerbated by their time in service. Based on the diagnosis of sleep apnea confirmed in veterans seeking care for TBI or sleep issues, the VA disability rating will determine the type of treatment and long-term support available.

Schedule a consultation with the Sleep Apnea Solutions team to discuss your suspected sleep apnea condition and create a personalized assessment and treatment plan.

Sleep Disorder Support Available

If you’re having trouble sleeping, discussing any sleep concerns with a dedicated Sleep Center is important. Sleep Apnea Solutions supports veterans with the challenges of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, offering personalized treatment plans, professional assessments, and high-quality care to patients. For veterans who are also managing a VA disability rating, our team is experienced in addressing the complexities that may accompany their sleep-related issues, ensuring they receive the support and care they need.

Learn more about our women-led sleep team, which is operating in Kansas for military staff and the local community. Contact our team today to schedule your appointment.