Navy Veterans

A Social Network for Navy Veterans of the United States of America

Sleep Disorders

Everyone looks forward to a good night’s sleep. Sleep is refreshing and renewing and most people who sleep well wake up in the morning with a new sense of purpose and new goals for the day. But anyone who hasn’t enjoyed a good night’s sleep, especially for days, weeks, or months in a row, knows how difficult life can be when one is extremely fatigued all the time.

A recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh has demonstrated that soldiers who recently returned from the war in Iraq are highly prone to developing severe sleep disorders. The study involved the comparison of 14 insomnia patients and 14 vets with post-deployment adjustment disorders and found that the vets displayed “significantly more severe disruptive nocturnal behaviors”, including nightmares and involuntary body movements. Overall, the vets experienced significantly worse sleep quality than even those who were considered insomniacs. Some even experienced sleep apnea, which is characterized by one or more pauses in breathing while one sleeps.

Symptoms and signs of sleep disorders include:

  • Irritability or sleepiness during the waking hours
  • Falling asleep while driving
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slow reaction time
  • Unprovoked emotional outbursts
  • The need to take frequent naps
  • The use of caffeine to stay awake

Why Sleep Disorders?

The main reason for sleep disorders or “a poor night’s sleep” among Navy veterans and other soldiers is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The syndrome may be characterized by nightmares that cause the vet to replay terrible scenes from combat during the dream cycle. The nightmares might occur shortly after the experience and continue for weeks, months, or – in some cases – even years. These upsetting dreams are very common among veterans who have been in the midst of war and have seen the unspeakable and are unable to forget their horrid experiences.

Sleep apnea has also been proven to be secondary to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Often, however, PTSD is not the only cause of sleep apnea. Other issues contribute as well, such as obesity or tonsillar problems.

Treating Sleep Disorders

Often, when a Navy or other veteran seeks help for a sleep disorder, he/she is asked to begin by keeping a sleep diary. This includes facts about one’s sleeping habits, including total sleep hours, quality of sleep, food consumed before bed, feelings and moods before bed, and drugs or medications taken. A sleep partner is usually required for this journaling activity.

Behavioral and environmental change might be the first suggestion a doctor makes in combating sleep disorders. However, if Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is expected after a few initial consultations, psychological and pharmacological treatments for that disorder will be recommended.

The doctor may also send the vet to a sleep center. Some Veteran’s Hospitals have sleep centers on site. At such a facility, the patient will be observed and monitored throughout the night to determine sleep patterns, brain waves, heart rate, rapid eye movements, and more. The results will then be analyzed and a treatment program devised. Again, treatment may include drugs and/or psychotherapy.

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