New research has indicated a six-fold increase in the prevalence of a sleep disorder in U.S. veterans over an 11-year period. Researchers noted that the highest increases in sleep disorder diagnoses were happening in patients with combat experience, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health condition. Further, PTSD occurrences and prevalence tripled throughout the duration of the study.
A sample of more than 9.7 million U.S. military veterans was used in this study, with the age-adjusted prevalence of sleep disorders increasing to almost 6% in 2010 from 1% in 2000. The most common diagnosed sleep disorder among the veterans was sleep apnea, including about 47% of individuals. The second most common condition was insomnia, affecting about 26% of participants. Those with previous or current diagnoses of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease were at higher risk of developing a sleep disorder when compared to those without comorbid conditions.
These results have been reviewed and published in the journal, Sleep.
The study was led by Principal Investigator and senior author, Dr. James Burch, PhD, who is an associate professor in Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Burch also stands as a Health Science Specialist in Columbia, South Carolina at the WJB Dorn Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He notes that PTSD-diagnosed veterans are at much higher risk of developing sleep disorders compared to others with various health conditions or other population characteristics that were examined.
This does not mean that PTSD causes sleep disorders, Burch notes, as the study was not designed to look that far into PTSD related to sleep disorders. However, while this does not prove PTSD leads to the diagnoses, researchers did perform a follow-up study that is nearly ready for publication, which examines the issue in further detail. This follow-up study identifies a pre-existing history of PTSD linked to increased risk of developing sleep disorder onset.
Sleep apnea is a form of sleep disordered breathing, which is characterized by symptoms of abnormal respirations during sleep, as defined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Obstructive sleep apnea is what we hear most about in sleep medicine, which is a syndrome that features symptoms that obstruct the airway during sleep, including frequent starts and stops in breathing. It is a repetitive partial or complete closure of the upper airways.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine characterizes insomnia as regular and persistent problems falling and staying asleep throughout the night, which frequently leads to poor sleep quality, fatigue, daytime impairment, and irritability.
This above study was focused solely on U.S. veterans who sought treatment at the Veterans Health Administration between the years 2000 and 2010, with a sample total of 9,786,778, most of which consisted of men (93%), and over 751,000 had at least one sleep disorder diagnosed.
Researchers note that the trajectory of diagnoses observed here shows that the trend is likely to continue, and the results emphasize the importance of further research and the need for management of sleep disorders among veterans.
Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.