Is There a Connection Between PTSD & Sleep Apnea?

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When someone is suffering from PTSD, it is difficult for them and their family living with them. Sometimes nightmares and flashbacks occur immediately after an experience, while other times it can take months. These PTSD symptoms can be very disturbing and cause a great amount of stress in everyday life. There are many who struggle with this after a traumatic experience, particularly our military veterans. At Sleep Rite, we are dedicated to quality sleep for all, so we are always on the lookout for new research to improve patients’ lives.

PTSD and sleep apnea

Recently, there is new research showing that PTSD symptoms may actually be worsened when another condition is present: sleep apnea. This connection can potentially lead to approaching the treatment of PTSD by treating the sleep apnea first. Let’s take a look at the recent studies, the connection that was found and treatments that have already begun which reflect these findings.

A Recent Study on the PTSD-Sleep Apnea Correlation

The recent study was performed by lead author Peter Colvonen, PhD and co-principal investigator Abigail Angkaw PhD. They evaluated 195 veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who visited an outpatient clinic for a PTSD evaluation.

The results came back showing that 69% of veterans had an increased risk for sleep apnea. What is interesting is that the more severe that the PTSD symptoms were, the higher the risk of sleep apnea was. This meant that the two were correlated.

About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea does not only worsen PTSD symptoms, it can also cause depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. It is actually a fairly common disorder in the United States, with 25 million people recorded as struggling with it. This accounts for 7% of the male population and 5% of the female population. Signs of the sleeping disorder include snoring, silence between breathing during sleep and gasping for air.

How Are PTSD and Sleep Apnea Connected

It is still unclear how sleep apnea and PTSD actually connect to each other, but researchers predict it may be a result of sleep deprivation, fragmented sleep during combat, chronic stress and hyper arousal due to stress during combat. What has been found is that one often comes with the other to equal degrees.

Hope for Sufferers of PTSD

With these findings, professionals are suggesting that veterans should be screened for sleep apnea so that they can be diagnosed and treated, This will, in turn, help them to reduce their PTSD symptoms since PTSD becomes a secondary problem of the sleep apnea. Authors of the study have stated that sleep apnea screening is not common, so this study hopes to change that.

CPAP Findings

Further research has lead to progress in successfully treating veterans with both sleep apnea and PTSD using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure therapy). This therapy is used for treating sleep apnea and works using a mask which is worn when sleeping. The mask gently blows an air stream through a person’s airways to ensure the airway does not close improperly during sleep.

When patients who had been diagnosed with PTSD and had also been treated in a medical sleep clinic were tested, astounding results came about. The mean amount of nightmares per week dropped significantly with the therapy. When sleep quality improves, frequent nightmares have been shown to cease.

This information is exciting for those veterans suffering from PTSD who have had no luck in reducing their intrusive nightmares. This connection takes a direct approach to fixing the root problem for many, which is likely making their other symptoms worse.

The study suggests that the lack of quality sleeps leads to worsening nightmares, which can now be addressed and treated for many. We’ll keep you posted on further studies that will be conducted to better understand treatments and the connection between the two.

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