What causes sleep apnea in the military?

Although the research and developments in sleep science have progressed in modern medicine, the relationship between veterans and apnea diagnosis is still largely unknown. With many health conditions and lifestyle choices linked to sleep disorders, there are many possible causes to consider for the ensure ongoing support and care of our veterans.

How common are sleep disorders for veterans?

Sleep disorders diagnoses are common amongst military personnel, often triggered by those suffering from injury, medical conditions or the reintegration into society after service. Unfortunately for some, time away from combat in civilian life doesn’t always bring respite to symptoms, with older veterans reporting persistent issues that often lead to an apnea diagnosis or other sleep-related disorders.

Studies suggest strong links between servicemen and sleep issues

Although the relationship between life in the military and apnea is still largely misunderstood, alarming rates of sleep disorders have been reported in several medical studies, including research undertaken by the Department of Veteran Affairs in San Diego in 2020. Professionals in the field discovered strong links between diagnosed veterans and those who suffered from mental health problems, brain injury and chronic pain conditions, suggesting veterans are four times more likely to develop sleep apnea than other US citizens.

How are veterans impacted by sleep disorders?

Life in the military can be very different to civilian life, so it is unsurprising due to the nature of the work that sleep struggles are common amongst veterans and those leaving the forces during periods of leave. The general lifestyle of the job, such as training, deployment and exposure to stress and trauma, can cause sleepless nights for many. Apnea is one of the three most frequent diagnoses reported in veterans who struggle with sleep disorders, alongside conditions such as insomnia and trouble with nightmares, which all lead to a reduced quality of sleep and other health implications.


The most common sleep complaint among patients, insomnia is recognised as difficulty falling asleep, or inability to stay asleep at night. For military staff, this is likely a result of exposure to stressors such as combat, injuries (commonly associated with the brain) and irregular sleep-wake cycles.


Many people will experience nightmares in their lifetime, but frequent episodes can suggest issues with your physical or mental health. Stress, anxiety, irregular sleep and mental health disorders (especially PTSD) can all lead to recurring nightmares, which can be traced to issues with deployment, combat, injuries and reintegration back into society for military staff.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common and serious sleep disorder that affects 22 million people across the US, including our servicemen. Sleep apnea can cause obstruction in your airways, restricting breathing during the night and increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and mental health issues.

The science behind apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder

Although there are frequent apnea diagnoses reported among veterans struggling with PTSD, the relationship between the two conditions is still not understood in the medical community. Researchers believe the link is likely caused by issues within the brain, often a result of lower growth hormone (GH) levels in the body. This imbalance leads to awakenings during the night, similar to symptoms experienced in sleep apnea patients. Medical professionals suggest treatment for both conditions to improve overall symptoms and quality of life for patients, with screening encouraged for PTSD sufferers experiencing sleep issues.

Treat your sleep apnea to treat your PTSD

The Sleep Matters team has a professional interest in improving the quality of life for apnea patients, exploring alternative sleep apnea therapies and accessible, convenient screening methods to get veterans the help they need to manage their condition. If you or your doctor are concerned about a suspected apnea diagnosis our free Sleep Assessment Form is over 90% successful at identifying individuals who have sleep apnea within 48 hours. Give us a call today to learn how we can help!