Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is well-known to cause nightmares, insomnia, and general sleep disruption. However, many Veterans fail to realize that there is an established link between PTSD and sleep apnea. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine of Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD found 69.2% were at a high risk of developing sleep apnea.
About Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. It is most often diagnosed in older men, but it’s important to note that many women and younger people do suffer from the condition.
There are three main types of sleep apnea.
- Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common form of sleep apnea and involves the throat muscles intermittently relaxing in a way that blocks your airway when you are sleeping.
- Central sleep apnea. In this form of sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Complex (mixed) sleep apnea syndrome. This diagnosis is given when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. It greatly impacts a person’s quality of life since they will wake up feeling exhausted even if they’ve had a full night’s sleep. This can lead to difficulties at work or school, problems maintaining relationships with others, and an increased risk of car crashes or other forms of accidental injury.
Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea needs to be diagnosed with a sleep study performed by a qualified healthcare provider. The test, also known as a polysomnogram, is typically done at a sleep center but can be conducted at home for some individuals.
Some common signs that suggest a person may suffer from sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Morning headaches
- Waking up with a sore throat and dry mouth
- Recurring waking throughout the night
- Waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
- Difficulty with concentration and memory during the day
Sleep apnea can be treated in a variety of ways. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is often recommended to deliver a constant flow of air into the nose to keep the airways open during sleep. Surgery helps in some cases, and lifestyle modifications such as losing weight or quitting smoking may also be recommended.
How Sleep Apnea Is Linked to PTSD
Although researchers have shown that people with PTSD are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea, the nature of the link between the conditions isn’t fully understood. One common theory is that PTSD increases a person’s risk of developing other sleep apnea risk factors. These include:
- Being overweight
- Abusing alcohol
- Experiencing high levels of stress
- Suffering from a co-occurring anxiety disorder
Note that even though PTSD increases the risk of developing sleep apnea, treating sleep apnea has been shown to decrease the severity of a person’s PTSD symptoms. When the body is able to get the rest it needs, fewer stress hormones are released and the ability to cope with anxiety improves. A study published by the American College of Chest Physicians in the Chest Journal investigated the effect of CPAP adherence on PTSD and found that PTSD patients who were fully compliant with CPAP treatment experienced a significant reduction in nightmares associated with PTSD.
Getting Disability Benefits for Sleep Apnea and PTSD
Veterans with service-connected PTSD can receive medical care and monthly cash payments. They are also entitled to receive additional compensation for what is referred to as secondary-service connected disabilities. These are conditions that medical research has shown to develop as the result of an initial service-connected disability. Sleep apnea is a common example of a secondary-service connected disability for someone with PTSD. Other examples of secondary-service connected disabilities may include depression, panic disorder, or migraines.
In some cases, Veterans with PTSD and multiple secondary-service connected disabilities may qualify for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU). This allows them to receive disability benefits at the rate of a Veteran who is 100% disabled, even if they wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a 100% disability rating.
The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, helps Veterans navigate the complexities of VA disability law and maximize their compensation by adequately documenting their secondary-service connected disabilities. Contact our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.