The Impact of Sleep Apnea on Soldiers

 

Sleep Disturbances in the Military


Sleep disturbances in military personnel can be attributed to several factors such as PTSD, increases in high operational tempo environments, deployments across multiple time zones, and the physical and emotional stressors of training and combat deployments. Sleep impairments can develop early on in one’s military career and may continue throughout. In one past study, Soldiers reported a reduction in sleep from an average of 8 to 9 hours at home to 5 to 6 hours per night during basic combat training. According to another research study, sleep disturbances are also among the most common symptoms of military personnel who return home from deployments.

As such, sleep apnea has become an increasing problem in the military. The growing rate of Soldiers experiencing sleep apnea over the last decade continues to affect operational readiness, troop welfare, and health care costs over time. According to a recent research study, rates of military service members experiencing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are increasing at a higher frequency than the civilian population. 

 


The Military has continued to play a vital role in implementing medical policies related to sleep, including screenings for troubled sleep using the Post Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA) and Post Deployment Health Re-Assessment (PDHRA) programs. However, recent studies found that policies related to sleep problems are usually service-specific and sometimes lacking in the amount of information given on sleep issues. Improving sleep in military training and operational contexts is a growing need given the recent increase in the number of Soldiers that are experiencing sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances.

 

Sleep Apnea Symptoms


The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight /obesity which is associated with the soft tissue of the mouth and throat. During sleep when the throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, this soft tissue can cause the airway to become blocked.

Common symptoms related to Sleep Apnea include:

  • Chronic snoring
  • Sleeplessness
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Learning and memory difficulties
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Shorts episodes of not breathing during sleep
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or a sore throat                                                                    


Implications of Untreated Sleep Apnea


As a result of airway blockages during sleep due to sleep apnea, the body undergoes repeated moments of suffocation and the brain does not get enough oxygen. If left untreated, these symptoms can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and more health issues.

As a result of airway blockages during sleep due to sleep apnea, the body undergoes repeated moments of suffocation and the brain does not get enough oxygen. If left untreated, these symptoms can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and more health issues.

Sleep disturbances and sleep apnea have adverse effects on our Soldiers, including overall health, their ability to perform their missions, and overall quality of life. This directly affects the overall operational readiness and Soldier welfare of our military.

 

Click here for additional wellness resources for the military community related to sleep disorders and sleep apnea.

 

Resources: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.12543/full

                   https://www.rand.org/pubs/periodicals/health-quarterly/issues/v5/n2/19.html

                   https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/sleep-apnea-symptoms

                   http://militarymedicine.amsus.org/doi/pdf/10.7205/MILMED-D-12-00022

                   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23681455

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