We know that diagnoses of sleep apnea are increasing. Partly, people are at a great risk of the condition because we are growing heavier. And partly diagnoses are increasing because people are more aware of the condition than they used to be.
But it’s unclear which if either of those conditions are at play in the new dramatic increase of sleep apnea and insomnia among deployed US troops. Diagnoses of both conditions have increased by 600% or more from 2003 to 2011, according to this new study.
How Deployment and Combat Impact Sleep
For this study, researchers looked through the health records of 1.4 million men and women who served in the armed forces from 1997 to 2011. Utilizing the Army Injury and Health Outcomes Database, they looked at how often different members of the service experienced these sleep conditions.
Researchers broke the personnel down into three categories: not deployed, deployed but not in combat, and deployed in combat. Troops were considered to be deployed if they served any time outside of the US during their term. They were considered to be in combat if they were in a unit that had combat losses during their time of service. Researchers then looked at how the different experiences related to whether they developed sleep apnea or insomnia.
Researchers found that overall cases of insomnia and sleep apnea had increased by over 600%. Insomnia increased by 652%, while the rate of sleep apnea increased by 600%. Being deployed doubled the risk of sleep apnea and insomnia. Being in combat increased the risk of insomnia by 50%. Being in combat was not associated with an increased risk of sleep apnea.
What Caused the Increase?
Researchers note that the increase in sleep-related problems represents a potential health crisis for US combat troops. They say that it’s critical to try to find the reason why so many troops are experiencing sleep-related problems.
For the insomnia, researchers say that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could account for some of the increase in insomnia, but not all of it. PTSD has been linked to chronic pain, including TMJ. However, there didn’t seem to be a link between PTSD and sleep apnea, although it is associated with poor compliance with CPAP, the most common treatment for sleep apnea.
Quite likely, the increase in sleep apnea is linked to other factors, such as increased obesity rates (though obesity rates are not cited in the study), and an increased awareness of the importance of sleep. Over the period that this study covers, the military launched strategies designed to try to improve the sleep of its service men and women, and this probably caused them to give greater scrutiny to sleep habits of soldiers and veterans.
Better Sleep Means Better Quality of Life
Even if the figures recognize not an increase in the rates of these conditions but in greater awareness of them, they are important. Our soldiers have made great sacrifices for our country, and they deserve to be able to sleep well knowing that their nation is prepared to take care of them. We hope that future research helps us better understand this problem so that we can take better care of our veterans and our active duty military.
At River Edge Dental, we want to help by offering a sleep apnea treatment that can be better for people with PTSD: oral appliance therapy, which isn’t as invasive and stifling as CPAP can be. If you find that your CPAP is too restrictive, confining, or stressful, please call 201-343-4044 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Marlen Martirossian at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.