VA Study Finds Alarmingly High Rates Of Insomnia In Post 9/11 Veterans

VA Study Finds Alarmingly High Rates Of Insomnia In Post 9/11 Veterans

According to a Department of Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System study, Post-9/11 veterans have “alarmingly high rates” of the insomnia disorder.

According to a recent VA blog post, more than half of those studied had the disorder. 

“Insomnia rates were even higher in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and chronic pain,” the blog post reads.

These results initially appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of the journal “Sleep.”

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that mostly consists of- difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up earlier than desired, or significant sleep-related problems during the daytime.

The VA is of the opinion that physicians have long known that veterans often have sleep problems. 

“Past research has suggested that veterans may have double or even triple the rates of insomnia, compared with non-veterans,” the VA blog says.

Irregular sleep schedules are pretty standard during active duty and harsh living conditions. Physical and psychological injury and post-deployment trouble reintegrating into civilian life may also play a role.

It is pretty difficult to get an accurate count of how many veterans have insomnia.

“Many patients may have insomnia symptoms or report sleep problems,” the blog continues.

Researchers collected data on more than 5,500 post-9/11 veterans at a single VA health care system over a period of seven years. They evaluated each patient for insomnia disorder, along with other conditions and characteristics.

“The researchers found that 57% of veterans in the study had insomnia disorder,” the blog reports. “This rate was fairly consistent regardless of age, sex, race, and military branch.”

The number of military deployments and a history of alcohol misuse did not affect the risk of insomnia. By way of comparison, studies of the general adult population, in the U.S. and other countries, show an insomnia prevalence of around 30%.

“Insomnia disorder rates were even higher in veterans with certain conditions. More than 93% of veterans with PTSD had insomnia disorder,” the blog stated. “About 78% of veterans with TBI had the disorder. And 70% of veterans with chronic pain also had insomnia.”

Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Peter Colvonen of the VA San Diego Healthcare System and University of California San Diego, said that the results also found a need to screen all veterans for insomnia.   

The sleep study makes it clear that the numbers are actually much higher than stated in previous studies of medical records where insomnia rates of only 3% were found in veterans and that insomnia disorder often goes unscreened and untreated in VA. One reason why this is could be because many clinicians do not see insomnia as a separate condition instead they treat it as a symptom of something else — like PTSD or pain — and therefore do not screen for insomnia itself. Many times Insomnia is not listed as a separate diagnosis in a patient’s health record.

These discrepancies between actual prevalence rates and what clinicians in VA are reporting, explains Colvonen, “can highlight the need to increase awareness of insomnia and insomnia treatment within VA. Offering more and better evidence-based treatments ultimately increases the client-centered care of it.”

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