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Sleep disorders on steep rise among U.S. veterans, study says

PTSD, three times as common now than a decade ago, was found to be the largest cause of the disorders, researchers report.

By Stephen Feller
Sleep disorders on steep rise among U.S. veterans, study says
Although PTSD is not the only cause for a six-fold increase in sleep disorders among veterans in the United States, it has contributed significantly to rising rates of sleep-related diagnoses, researchers say. Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- A sharply increasing number of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces have developed sleep problems, with researchers tying a large portion of the jump to the also rising prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina found the number of veterans with sleep disorders went up six-fold during the last decade, while PTSD has become three times as common during the same time, they report in a new study published in the journal Sleep.

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Combat experience and other mental disorders have also helped push the number of sleep disorders among veterans up, but the increased rates are concerning regardless of the specific cause, they say.

For the study, researchers analyzed medical data on all 9.78 million veterans who sought healthcare from the Veterans Health Administration between 2000 and 2010, of whom 93 percent were men and 751,502 were diagnosed with a sleep disorder.

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The most common sleep disorders diagnosed were sleep apnea and insomnia, which made up 47 percent and 26 percent of all diagnoses. The overall number of disorders diagnosed is a six-fold relative increase in total prevalence during the decade-long study period.

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During the decade, which included the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, researchers reported PTSD diagnoses tripled and were linked to 16 percent of sleep disorders -- the most common condition linked to a sleep disorder among the veterans.

While PTSD is a significant concern, as emphasized by the results of the study, the researchers say their findings indicate a growing need for sleep disorder management to be included in healthcare planning by veterans' caregivers.

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"Because of the way this study was designed, this does not prove that PTSD caused the increase in sleep disorder diagnoses," Dr. James Burch, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina, said in a press release. "However, we recently completed a follow-up study, soon to be submitted for publication, that examined this issue in detail. In that study, a preexisting history of PTSD was associated with an increased odds of sleep disorder onset."

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