While you may be just one of the tens of millions of Americans that suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), there’s one group you are more likely to be in than others: veterans. According to the Sleep Disorder Center at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, veterans are highly impacted by sleep apnea and are almost 4X as likely to suffer from the sleep disorder than most other groups of Americans.
The group estimates that about 20% of veterans are coping with sleep apnea and so this particular respiratory disorder is one of the most common service-connected disabilities on record. Why do veterans suffer from sleep apnea more than other groups? It all comes down to PTSD.
Why Veterans are Likely to Suffer from Sleep Apnea
A study out of the San Diego, California VA reported that high risk of sleep apnea was associated with an increased tendency for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. If you, like many service members, have severe side effects from PTSD, you are 40% more likely to be considered “high risk” for sleep apnea.
“The implication is that veterans who come to PTSD treatment, even younger veternals, should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea so they can have the opportunity to be diagnosed and treated,” said San Diego VA researcher Sonya Norman, PhD.
How The VA Addresses Sleep Apnea
While there may be ample scientific evidence of the connection between service-related PTSD and sleep apnea, the VA is still extremely strict and requires a thorough diagnosis and treatment process before you can qualify for therapy.
If you want to be eligible for sleep apnea treatments, you must do the following:
- Receive an official diagnosis from a sleep study
- ApneaMed offers at-home studies so you don’t have to spend an uncomfortable night in a hospital sleep lab
- Provide proof that your OSA started or got worse as a result of active duty
- Draw a connection between the diagnosis and your term of service
It’s crucial that you be able to draw a connection between your military service and your sleep apnea, or at least be able to prove that it was caused, or exasperated, by your term of service.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
If you qualify for sleep apnea treatment, you may experience anxiety or stress about continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or automatic positive airway pressure (AutoPAP) machines. But, rest assured, these devices remain the most effective treatment for those suffering from all levels of sleep apnea.
For those curious about the differences between these two machines, the CPAP provides a continuous stream of light air pressure that prevents obstructions to the throat and chest during sleep, preventing apnea events. The AutoPAP is a newer, more innovative option that senses obstructions or disturbances in your breathing and provides an increasing amount of airway pressure until the obstruction is eliminated. This is an extremely effective treatment for those experiencing severe snoring, apneas, and hypopneas during sleep. Some newer AutoPAP machines include built-in humidifiers to combat dryness that can result from the increased airway pressure.
At-Home Remedies To Help OSA
If it turns out that you don’t qualify for VA-sanctioned treatment but want to try and help alleviate some of your OSA symptoms, there are some things you can do at home without a prescription. Perhaps one of the more difficult options, you can endeavor to make serious changes to your lifestyle.
Sleep apnea is often caused by being overweight and the extra pressure that excess skin and untoned muscles can put on your airways. Often, doctors will suggest a regular exercise regimen paired with a healthy diet. Once you’ve lost weight and the sleep apnea symptoms are alleviated or have subsided, you can move into a maintenance diet and exercise routine to stay at a healthy weight.
Other lifestyle changes may include decreasing your use of alcohol, cigarettes, or other sedatives. While a nightcap may sound like a good idea, it is actually making your sleep worse, especially if you drink to excess. Alcohol interrupts sleep quality and is a potent muscle relaxer that will cause excessive sagging in your mouth and throat muscles while you’re asleep. Other sedatives, like over the counter sleeping pills, can have a tranquilizing effect on muscles, increasing rather than decreasing your risk of apnea events. Similarly, smoking has an inflammatory effect on the airways, causing increased obstructions to the natural flow of air in and out of the body. While this can occasionally help alleviate symptoms, it isn’t a cure for sleep apnea and can lead to a false sense of security in your sleep quality.
While these are just some of the suggestions of ways you can start treating your sleep apnea from home, they are not a cure and may only mask your condition. Because sleep apnea has no real cure, you need to be diligent about monitoring your condition. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea and approved by the VA, you’ll need to treat your condition with an AutoPAP machine or similar device. Whereas these home remedies are not always reliable, your AutoPAP machine is a prescription treatment that is specifically calibrated to your breathing, automatically adapting to give you incredible, uninterrupted sleep. Be sure to talk to your local VA doctor or administrator to see how you can get tested for sleep apnea.