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Recent Report Highlights Alarming Rates of Insomnia Among Veterans

A recent study out of the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego found “alarmingly high” rates of insomnia among veterans, especially among those experiencing PTSD and TBIs. First published in June, the Oxford University medical journal’s “Sleep” found in a seven-year study of over 5,500 post 9/11 veterans, 57% had insomnia disorder.

These results of the “Sleep” study held true across the different demographics that make up the military such as age, sex, race, even which branch the veteran served in. By comparison, it was noted that the average rate of insomnia among the general adult population is only approximately 30%.

As mentioned above, veterans with PTSD and TBI fare worse than those without. Above 93% of veterans with PTSD and 78% of those with TBIs had insomnia. Even among those with chronic pain, the rates were higher than average at about 70%.

Being defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep, insomnia has often fallen through the cracks in the conversation of veteran mental health. It’s often un-cited by veterans because they do not think it is a big deal. The study’s review of the VA medical records showed that only 3% of veterans had reported problems with sleeping. Many of them have been dealing with sleep related issues since boot camp and regard it as part of the job. Medical professionals are highly concerned with this attitude around insomnia because of the potentially detrimental medical complications it can ensue.

The complications that can arise from insomnia include increased risk of death, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, mood disorders, anxiety, and reduced physical functioning.

Oxford’s study highlights the need for the VA to do more for veterans dealing with insomnia. A crucial step might be simply raising awareness to create a shift in the way the community thinks about sleep related issues. It will be very difficult to address the problem if only 3% of veterans with insomnia report it. Though it is engrained early on in military careers that sleep deprivation and unnatural schedules are part of the job, the community must be made aware of the hazardous consequences of prolonged insomnia after their time in service.

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