sleep foundation
The National Sleep Foundation

Medically Reviewed by

The National Sleep Foundation

Written by

The National Sleep Foundation

Veterans are four times more likely than other Americans to suffer from sleep apnea, according to Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Claims for sleep apnea as a disability among veterans revealed that they are disproportionately affected by the disorder. Roughly 5% of Americans have sleep apnea, but up to 20% of veterans suffer from the disorder. In 2007 Congress supported greater awareness of sleep apnea among veterans and asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay closer attention to the incidence of sleep disorder among veterans. Greater awareness of the disorder has prompted more veterans to seek treatment, Hirshkowitz said in an interview with USA TODAY.

The number of veterans receiving disability benefits for a sleeping disorder has increased 61% in the past two years. Claims for sleep apnea as a disability has jumped to 63,118 in 2010 from 39,145 in 2008 according to Veterans Affairs data released to USA TODAY. Losing weight can help some people with sleep apnea, Hirshkowitz said, but he also notes that some thin men and some women also have the disorder. Lifestyle change can be effective in mitigating some symptoms of sleep apnea.

Here are three tips that may help reduce apnea severity:

  • Avoid alcohol; it causes frequent nighttime awakenings, and makes the upper airway breathing muscles relax.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking worsens swelling in the upper airway, making apnea (and snoring) worse.
  • Ask your doctor or health care provider about using a CPAP device or dental appliance – both are effective at treating mild to moderate sleep apnea.

Learn more about sleep apnea.