A new study finds that many people suffering from PTSD may also experience Sleep Apnea. Certain types of wartime trauma, nightmares, and PTSD can all severely disrupt sleep and are all now linked to Sleep Apnea. The study also found that treatment with a CPAP machine can improve the person’s sleep as well as help mitigate some of the symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD and Sleep Apnea
In 2010, a group of doctors began exploring the theory that veterans who experience PTSD may be at a higher risk for developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress, usually as a result of a traumatizing experience, like warfare. Patients who experience PTSD may also experience sleep disorders like insomnia or frequent nightmares. The study wasn’t based around the normal symptoms that could lead to the development of Sleep Apnea, like obesity or older age, but rather with the present sleep issues PTSD patients were experiencing and how that may increase their risk for developing Sleep Apnea in their lifetime.
The Study Linking Sleep Apnea and PTSD
A study was done with a group of 159 veterans, ranging in age from 21 to 59 years old, of which 93% were male. The patients were monitored for a period of time and doctors began to draw links between the severity of the patient’s PTSD symptoms and the risk it put them for developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea1. While the exact link between PTSD and Sleep Apnea has yet to be discovered, the study did reveal that the main triggers of PTSD that put patients at a higher risk for developing Sleep Apnea were chronic stress and sleep deprivation. Of the 159 veterans that were tested in this study, 69.2% were found to be at a high risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Veterans Should Be Screened for Sleep Apnea, Too
While the normal signs and symptoms of Sleep Apnea are typically focused around age and weight, in PTSD patients these factors didn’t seem to matter. Rather, it was their existing sleep disorders and chronic stress that put them at a higher risk for developing Sleep Apnea. It was advised after this study that all veterans should be screened for Sleep Apnea secondary to PTSD, regardless of the severity of their PTSD symptoms, age, or weight, as they are already at a higher than normal risk.
CPAP Therapy Can Improve Sleep Apnea and PTSD Symptoms
After further studies, it was also found that patients experiencing both PTSD and Sleep Apnea who adhered to CPAP therapy, following their treatment plan, noticed an improvement in their PTSD symptoms. There have been several studies that show the use of CPAP machines can help reduce the number of PTSD related nightmares and improve the patient’s overall quality of sleep and life.
Why Sleep Apnea Treatment Is Important
Like PTSD, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is not something to be taken lightly. When left untreated, it can lead to serious health issues like high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, memory problems, and can even cause a stroke. These factors can put even more stress on the body, worsening the chronic stress most PTSD patients already experience.
The good news is Sleep Apnea treatment is easy and readily available. Veterans whose Sleep Apnea developed as a result of their PTSD can seek help from the VA disability for Sleep Apnea treatment. The most common way to treat Sleep Apnea, and what has been found most successful in reducing PTSD-related sleep disorders, is with the use of CPAP machines. However, it is important to remain vigilant with CPAP therapy and adhere to the treatment plan laid out by your doctor. Not sticking to that plan would result in very little improvement. If you’re unable to adjust to a CPAP machine, you can explore alternatives to CPAP that may still provide the symptom relief for both PTSD and Sleep Apnea.
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1. Colvonen, Peter J et al. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among OEF/OIF/OND Veterans.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 11,5 513-8. 15 May. 2015, doi:10.5664/jcsm.4692
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.