A new study found that the U.S. military is experiencing an increase in severe sleep disorders – conditions that affect operational readiness and can lead to physical and mental health problems for troops and veterans in the short and long term.
According to a study by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the number of diagnoses of insomnia increased 45 times and that of obstructive sleep apnea increased 30 times among US military personnel from 2005 to 2019.
The increases should affect military leaders and doctors, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides medical care to veterans with duty-related illness, said retired Army Col. (Dr.) Vincent Mysliwiec, a sleep expert and one of the study’s authors.
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“A large percentage of military veterans suffer from insomnia and sleep apnea. We are trying to develop a better understanding of the factors that lead to insomnia that can develop into insomnia in the military, ”he said.
Insomnia rates rose across all services from 2005 and peaked in 2015 before declining slightly. Sleep apnea diagnoses peaked in 2016, but remained higher than before, according to the study.
The highest rates for both diseases were found in the Army, with more cases diagnosed than expected; the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps had rates lower than expected. However, all services grew.
Those most likely to be diagnosed with either disorder were married, male, white, 40 years of age or older, and senior soldiers.
“These results are worrying given that the members of the military are otherwise healthy and have similar physical demands. Their sleep disorders developed and were diagnosed during their military service,” said Mysliwiec.
Female military personnel were diagnosed at much lower rates than men. That’s not surprising in sleep apnea, which is less often diagnosed in civilian women of military service than men, but surprising in insomnia, as women generally have a higher prevalence of the disorder, Mysliwiec said.
“Insomnia is increasingly being diagnosed in veterans, so the lower rate of insomnia diagnoses found in our study suggests that female military personnel may be underdiagnosed for this sleep disorder,” the researchers wrote. “This is a potentially alarming finding and one that warrants further investigation.”
For the study, researchers searched the medical records of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Navy personnel on active duty for the medical diagnostic codes for the two conditions.
While insomnia is always a topic of interest in the military, many studies have focused on a single service – primarily the army – or have been survey based.
This was the first study to look at diagnoses in all branches except the Space Force, which at the time didn’t exist, and the Coast Guard, which reports to the Department of Homeland Security.
The authors noted that many factors could have contributed to more Army personnel being diagnosed, including the fact that the service is more likely to have overweight personnel – a factor contributing to sleep apnea – and soldiers may have better access to medical centers with Insomnia Clinics.
The Army had the first service-wide training program on militarily appropriate sleep practices that may have made soldiers aware of their sleeping habits and prompted them to seek medical attention.
Study co-author Alan Peterson said that while research missions were not evaluated, “previous research has shown a strong correlation between missions and insomnia and stakes in combination with other chronic health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain” . Injury.
“Between 2008 and 2012, there were longer and more frequent missions in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army has typically had the longest and most frequent deployments – 21 months – compared to 12 to 16 months for the other services, “Peterson said.
The researchers said the results “open the door” to learning more about the causes of these disorders in military personnel and advised military medical leadership to consider further intervention, as well as improved insomnia screenings for female soldiers and broader screening for sleep apnea pull among black troops.
Mysliwiec said he would like to see more focus on healthy sleeping habits and planning to ensure service staff don’t suffer from insomnia or run the risk of developing a sleep disorder.
“There’s this perception that military personnel in some form or form is causing their insomnia. It’s just wrong,” he said. “‘Oh, they drink a lot of caffeine. It causes their insomnia.’ Well, they drink a lot of caffeine because they have to work 12, 14, 16 hour days and stay awake, they have to have a coping mechanism.
“How do we prevent people from using these drinks to stay awake and do their military duties? And if we let them work 36 hours, will we give them time to sleep and relax? ”He added.
The study was published in the journal Sleep in February.
– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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