U.S. military veterans were six times more likely to experience a sleep disorder in the year 2010 than they were in 2000, according to a new study of more than 9.7 million U.S. veterans published in the journal Sleep.
The largest increases were identified in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental disorders, or combat experience. Veterans with cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other chronic diseases also experienced higher rates of sleep disorder diagnoses relative to those without comorbid conditions.
The findings also show that the prevalence of PTSD tripled during the 11-year study period.
“Veterans with PTSD had a very high sleep disorder prevalence of 16 percent, the highest among the various health conditions or other population characteristics that we examined,” said principal investigator and senior author James Burch, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.
“Because of the way this study was designed, this does not prove that PTSD caused the increase in sleep disorder diagnoses,” noted Burch, also a researcher at the WJB Dorn Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina.
“However, we recently completed a follow-up study, soon to be submitted for publication, that examined this issue in detail. In that study, a pre-existing history of PTSD was associated with an increased odds of sleep disorder onset.”
During the study period, the age-adjusted prevalence of sleep disorders increased from less than one percent in 2000 to nearly six percent in 2010. Sleep apnea was the most common sleep disorder diagnosis (47 percent) followed by insomnia (26 percent).
Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder characterized by abnormalities of respiration during sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which involves repeated episodes of complete or partial upper airway obstruction occurring during sleep.
Insomnia is characterized by having frequent and persistent difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep that results in general sleep dissatisfaction and daytime impairment.
The study population consisted of all U.S. veterans seeking care in the Veterans Health Administration system between the years 2000 and 2010. Of the total sample of 9,786,778 veterans, 93 percent were men, and 751,502 were diagnosed with at least one sleep disorder.