Another Strong Link Between PTSD and Sleep Apnea

November 5, 2010

Here’s a not too surprising study about post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) in veterans: 54% of PTSD patients who underwent formal sleep studies were found to have obstructive sleep apnea. This is much higher than what’s normally expected (about 20%). There are numerous reports of veterans with severe PTSD that are eventually found to have obstructive sleep apnea later in life, and once treated, the PTSD goes away.

It’s likely that they always had some degree of obstructive sleep apnea to begin with, and once the emotional or physical trauma took place, memories or thoughts of that event can trigger a hyperintense reaction, since your nervous system is going to be hypersensitive in general.

I’m also guessing that there will be a significant number of veterans that don’t meet the official criteria for obstructive sleep apnea, but still suffer from significant breathing pauses and arousals.

Based on these findings, do you think everyone with a formal diagnosis of PTSD should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea? Please enter your comments in the text box below.

15 Responses to “Another Strong Link Between PTSD and Sleep Apnea”

  1. R on November 5th, 2010 5:13 am

    Yes, they all should be screened. I know one Vietnam veteran disabled with PTSD for decades. He has classic symptoms of sleep apnea – snores, sleepy all the time, fatigued, recessed chin and heavy neck fat. He and his wife don’t want to hear anything about a sleep lab and his VA doctors have never considered that he might have sleep apnea.

  2. Byron Keith Fite on July 29th, 2011 3:57 pm

    I was diagnosed with PTSD about 5 years ago, and although I had been having nightmares, cold sweats, and unable to catch my breath waking up 3-5 times each night for the last 39 years, the Dr. that just diagnosed me with sleep apnea , says that there is know way that the 2 are linked together. He says one is psychological, and the other is a physical illness.I am up for a compensation hearing and review, and if it comes back not in my favor, the I plan to get an attorney, because no one in my family has EVER had sleep problems, and it’s a proven fact that most physical illnesses start out as psychological issues to begin with, and I don’t believe he can prove that the sleep apnea was NOT caused by the PTSD!

  3. Byron Keith Fite on November 30th, 2011 3:39 pm

    I was diagnosed with severe PTSD 6 years agofrom an incident that happened in 1972 while in the US Army, and was recently diagnosed with severe sleep apnea 118 episodes a night!! I am not overweight and No One in my family, nor myself has ANY history of sleep dis-order, and looking at all of the other veterans that have this dis-order, WHY is it so hard for the Goverment to tell the truth and own up to the responsibility when it come to linking the 2 disabilities together. The BOTTOM Line is $$$$$… and there is no one that is going to convince me of any other reason why they don’t!!!

  4. Bob Brooks on February 27th, 2012 10:02 pm

    More to the point, It’s time for the VA to accept the fact that there is a causal relationship between PTSD and OSA.

    Doc, You’re a well respected expert on this matter. You “talk” a lot. It’s time for you to step up to the plate and DO something.

  5. Edward Bowling on December 11th, 2012 1:25 pm

    I hve a rating for ptsd with rhe va and have had a sleep study done at the vamc and have been issued a cpacp for obsturctive sleep apnea and in the sleep study it said compants are caused by ptsd do i have a claim with the va?

  6. Nicholas J Burke on March 6th, 2013 3:47 pm

    Dr. SIR -I really need your help–I suffer from a rather severe case of PTSD and woul d like to have your help to find articles to prove to the VA that there is a link/connection of PTSD and sleep apnea–you are very well known in your field and any help you could send be would be a great help==a Vietnam vet–thanks

  7. M. E. Gottlieb on March 16th, 2013 7:40 pm

    There’s already been one case that I know of in which an Iraqi War veteran’s VA physician concluded that the soldier’s pre-existing sleep apnea was found to have worsened due to combat induced PTSD. The soldier was granted full combat related disability due to PTSD and severe PTSD induced sleep apnea.

    I will try to find the VA documents in my files which included the case number and the name of the physician if requested.

    There’s also extensive research on violent crime victim PTSD and sleep apnea. The research appearred to be from highly credible sources such as major universities and medical authorities. There’s a very high correaltion and clear causative links between the two.

  8. Vickie Burrows on March 25th, 2013 7:30 pm

    I am getting ready to submit my claim for osa as a secondary to PTSD. The incident in question happened 32 years ago in Berlin, Germany. (MST) It took me 30 years to get to this point for 100% PTSD. Now, I am getting ready to have a sleep study done in the middle of May at the VA. My old records, up to the present, are litterered with references of symptoms (insomnia, sleeping problems etc. Not one time in 30 years of Doctors and such was anything suggested about a sleep study. Well don’t worry, I’m making up for lost time!

  9. Edward Bowling on March 27th, 2013 10:53 am

    I am service connected for ptsd have been since 10/06 . I am at 50% . I have filed a claim for sleep apena secondary to ptsd I have been tested for it and I wear a mask at night when I can put up with it. I went for the c&p for the sleep apnea secondary to ptsd the c&p doctor ask me three question it took him one minute and forty six seconds and he told me he never heard of such so it not hard to figure this out come out . any comment . please reply. Thanks ED.

  10. Tamra on April 3rd, 2013 12:08 pm

    I have PTSD from an incident (husband & son died) in 1998. I was diagnosed with OSA at 49 yrs old in 2010. I was about 10 lbs UNDERweight at the time and have been wondering if it’s damage to my nervous system from PTSD that is causing the OSA. I also can’t tolerate CPAP because, I assume, of the PTSD. Even the nose pillow mask feels like it’s smothering me. I’m exhausted.

  11. James Adams on December 5th, 2013 8:47 am

    I am serviced connected ptsd and i filed a claim for secondary to ptsd and they denied me. I have a cpap and i have nightmares, cold swet and at the sleep study they told me when it looked like i was sleep i was not because of the nightmares. My body would jump ,so i would always be tired and sleepy and i would fine myself gaping for air, snooring. I will now appeal the denial but if anyone know of any help i can get please let me know. Thank you

  12. Corey T.Morris on November 17th, 2014 12:35 am

    I have been fighting a claim since 2010 for PTSD, This claim has been denied sveral times. Initially because VA said that I did not go to “sickcall” and it wasn’t in my active duty medical records. As a leader, it was instilled that leaders don’t go to sickcall because “you can’t lead from sickcall. But when I served in Iraq, I experienced the fear of being mortored by enemy artillery and rockets on a daily basis. Earning a Bronze Star Medal for achievment.

  13. Sam on February 24th, 2015 6:26 pm

    I was found to have a severe case of Sleep Apnea (73) last March. I have PTSD from Vietnam and have been treated (way to late) by the Va. I was given a Cpap last April. I tried all three mask. I found my problem to be that when I finally went into a deep sleep about 21/2 hours or so. I had my bad dreams of Vietnam (same one most fo the time) so bad that I would wake up in a frantic mode. Sometimes crying and swinging my arm, pulling the mask off. Once I almost knuckled my wife with a fist. So I stopped using the cpap lst October. I would rather go on sleeping 1-11/4 hours at a time (maybe 2-3 times a night) then to have the bad dreams again. And possible hurt my wife. I also don’t like the mood throughout the day that the dreams put me in. Way to much anxiety.

  14. Tamra on February 24th, 2015 10:58 pm

    Have you tried cannabis? I read that THC can reduce apneas. I’ve been using cannabis oil in a manner that avoids the “high” feeling, and have been sleeping better. Of course, you’d need to live in a state with medical marihuana laws. Google “Sleep Apnea THC” or just read this:

  15. richard garcia on December 1st, 2015 9:42 pm

    I served two tours as a combat infantry squad leader in RVN 68-70.
    Diagnosed with PTSD 1997.
    Diagnosed wth Sleep apnea this year, and prescribed CPAP.
    Applied for compensation and was denied. Said there is no connection between combat , PTSD and apnea.
    What is up with that?

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