How Does the Military Cause Sleep Apnea?

There are many correlations and factors, such as sleep deprivation and PTSD, but the exact cause depends on the person.

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can have debilitating and long-term health consequences. Unfortunately, many military personnel are at an increased risk of developing the condition due to their service.

In this article, we look at how the military can cause sleep apnea and how it can be treated and possibly prevented. We will explore what factors may put certain members of the armed forces at greater risk, as well as the effects on quality of life and mental health.

How Does The Military Cause Sleep Apnea – Studies

There are two popular studies that recognize sleep apnea being an issue in the military. One is for current, active members of the military and the other is for veterans.

Active Member Sleep Study

Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington did a study of active military members who were referred for a possible sleep disorder. 85% that were referred did in fact have a sleep disorder. Surprisingly, over 52% had sleep apnea.

Veterans Sleep Study

A study by American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 195 veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) were studied for sleep disorders. 70% of the veterans were at high risk of having OSA (obstructive sleep apnea). The study also showed that with increased severity of PSD there was a 40% higher probability of developing OSA.

Sleep Apnea Military Causes

Weight Gain

Weight gain is the number one cause cause of sleep apnea in veterans. In recent years, the amount of veterans affected with sleep apnea has steadily risen. Most, are due to an increase in weight gain. Weight gain itself is becoming a larger health concern among veterans.

Veterans are now twice as likely to experience sleep apnea when compared to non-veterans, making weight gain in veterans the leading cause of this sleep disorder. Unfortunately, many veterans have difficulty accessing medical care for their sleep issues due to financial constraints or limited access to medical facilities. This makes it difficult for them to find effective treatments for their condition before it progresses and becomes more severe.

Being service-connected due to a physical or mental issue can cause weight gain. Examples, if you can’t walk or get around like you used to, or if you have emotional distress that causes lack of motivation to exercise.

Additionally, weight gain can lead to other complications such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which can worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea even further.


PTSD can cause people to experience anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts or memories which can lead to physical changes that interfere with normal breathing patterns while sleeping.

One way PTSD may influence sleep apnea is through the body’s autonomic nervous system which controls unconscious body functions such as heart rate and breathing. In those suffering from PTSD, the body’s autonomic nervous system may become overactive due to chronic stress causing increased arousal during periods of rest. This arousal causes shallow and irregular breathing patterns which leads to episodes of sleep apnea.

Prolonged Sleep Deprivation

Active members of the military are often deprived of sleep by having irregular sleeping patterns for years. Military personnel are particularly prone to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation due to their demanding lifestyle and irregular schedules often involving rotating shifts and long nights on duty. The hazardous conditions they face on a daily basis require them to stay alert and vigilant which make taking regular naps difficult or impossible in certain situations.

Studies have shown that those suffering from prolonged sleep deprivation are more likely to suffer from OSA than those who get adequate rest. People with OSA often complain of loud snoring, frequent awakenings during the night, and daytime fatigue. Sleepiness during everyday activities is also common in people with prolonged sleep deprivation and OSA.

Your Options

The number one thing you need to do is talk with your doctor. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, when was the last time you were reevaluated? He/she can give you the info needed to get a new, updated sleep study in order for you. Sleep apnea tests these days are far more simple than they used to be. You can do them at home, and there are even disposable ones now.

Probably the best news, the tests are also very affordable and not expensive like an in-lab sleep study. These tests can get you on the right track and the treatment needed. If you are overweight, then lifestyle changes can make a big difference and possibly cure it as well!