Healthy Vets: Understanding Sleep Deprivation and PTSD

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Jimmy rarely gets more than five hours of sleep on any given night. The few hours that he does sleep are rarely restful. He constantly wakes from vivid nightmares of combat or chronic pain caused by the tiny pieces shrapnel lodged deep inside his shin bone. To say that Jimmy is exhausted is a gross understatement.

Unfortunately, Jimmy’s situation is not rare. Studies have revealed our military vets frequently suffer from sleep deprivation…a condition that’s known to lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During his last trip to the VA hospital, Jimmy was officially diagnosed him with PTSD, and he’s certainly not alone in this condition.

  • 11-20 percent of Veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD
  • 12 percent of Veterans of Desert Storm have PTSD
  • 30 percent of Vietnam Veterans have/had PTSD

The Effects of PTSD and Sleep Deprivation

A study published in the journal Sleep evaluated a group of more than 2,700 members of a brigade combat team and discovered that short sleep duration (less than 7 hours nightly) is common among redeployed soldiers.

An average night’s sleep for the soldiers studied – all of whom were veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom – is 5.8 hours. Of the 72 percent that reported short sleep duration, 29 percent of them get less than 6 hours of sleep nightly.

Those with very short sleep duration (less than 6 hours nightly) are at greater risk for other medical conditions and high-risk behaviors.

Among those who screened positively for PTSD, 37 percent reported symptoms of insufficient sleep. In fact, for our military veterans and active duty soldiers, insufficient sleep of less than 6 hours nightly is the strongest predictor of PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder often makes post-war sufferers reluctant to seek treatment or difficult to help.

Common symptoms and reactions associated with PTSD include:

Sleep deprivation has also been associated with:

  • Depression
  • Panic Syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco and Alcohol Abuse
  • Suicidal Thoughts

Add all of these high-risk factors together and it’s easy to see how they can quickly result in an alarming total for military servicemen and women. Luckily, there are steps that can be taken to overcome both sleep deprivation and the symptoms of PTSD.

The Road to Recovery

Experts have concluded that high numbers of veterans are at risk for developing PTSD. As a result, it’s suggested they receive additional clinical, behavioral and educational services – especially among those with a high prevalence of sleep deprivation.

According to the study authors, it is vital for our veterans to “reestablish good sleep practices and aggressive evaluation of soldiers with persistent short sleep duration following deployment may aid in the prevention and management of a variety of health risks and potentially minimize long-term health care utilization.”

By taking the advice of his doctors and other leading experts in the field, thousands of soldiers like Jimmy can get the help they need, increase their quality of sleep each night and go on to live a life that is no longer consumed by the effects of PTSD.

Additional Reading: Vets Offered More Access to PTSD, Addiction Therapies

Image Source: iStock

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