Sleep is essential to the fitness of our fighting soldiers. In fact, it’s one part of the performance triad that the army recommends its soldiers observe to maintain battle fitness.  It’s also essential to help veterans adapt to civilian life and enjoy a good quality of life after their tours of duty. Unfortunately, sleep is not always easy to come by for soldiers and vets.

Soldiers have difficulty getting good sleep because of problems like insomnia and sleep apnea. The hope is that a new solution might help them overcome these and other sleep disorders to finally get the good night’s sleep they need to stay in battle-ready condition.

To study one possible solution, researchers at CU Anschutz’s Center for Combat Medicine and Battlefield (COMBAT) Research received a $750,000 federal grant.

man with a sleep mask rest peacefully in bed

Insomnia Rates Skyrocket

According to the US Army, insomnia rates among its active-duty personnel increased almost 20-fold from 2000 to 2009. Poor sleep increases soldiers’ risk for anxiety, depression, chronic pain, alcohol abuse, PTSD, and suicide.

One of the factors that researchers cited as a factor in insomnia is noise on base. This, combined with shift work and other environmental factors can make it hard for soldiers to sleep, causing them to lose combat readiness.

The goal of this study is to see if earbuds with noise-masking and relaxation capabilities can help soldiers improve their sleep and readiness. 

Randomized Crossover Study

In this study, a combination of active-duty and retired military veterans with sleep apnea will receive a set of Bose Sleepbuds. Sleepbuds are specialized earbuds that are designed specifically for sleep. They don’t play music or take phone calls.

Researchers will monitor the sleep of subjects before the study. In the study, subjects will be assigned to get either noise masking and guided relaxation or just noise masking for three nights. Then subjects will take three nights of sleeping without the technology. Next, subjects will get the other approach from their Sleepbuds for three nights. Finally, researchers will monitor subjects’ sleep for several nights after the study.

Sleep Apnea Remains a Problem for the Military

However, insomnia is not the only sleep disorder that’s been on the rise for military personnel. In 2014, sleep apnea became the most prevalent disability among veterans, accounting for more than 22% of all respiratory disability claims. By 2017, that proportion had grown to nearly 27%. There is no sign that this increase is slowing.

In addition, research in veterans shows that poor sleep leads to brain damage, including a loss of gray matter in the cortical and lobar regions.

This created a challenge for the Veterans’ Administration (VA). Not only did it have many sleep apnea claims to deal with, but it also had the challenge of how to treat these claims.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is the leading sleep apnea treatment. However, veterans often found it hard to use their CPAP to effectively treat their sleep apnea. Combat veterans with PTSD had a particularly hard time adjusting to CPAP.

Even when researchers tried to deploy advanced forms of CPAP for treatment, only 58% of veterans actually used their CPAP machine effectively. 

Oral Appliances Remain an Underutilized Solution

Although oral appliances may be a powerful solution to help veterans and soldiers with sleep apnea who can’t adapt to CPAP, not many people use them. That’s in part because the disability guidelines suggest that only CPAP is an acceptable sleep apnea treatment.

VA disability ratings are directly linked to compensation rates. In order to qualify for a disability rating of 50%, the code says that sleep apnea “Requires use of breathing assistance device such as continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machine.”

An oral appliance could be considered a “breathing assistance device.”

However, many veterans don’t want to risk their monthly compensation by fighting for an oral appliance, even if this might ultimately help them get better sleep and better results.

We need to educate veterans and those moderating their claims about the value of oral appliance therapy. In addition, the code should be adjusted to encourage the use of oral appliances when beneficial. 

Are You Looking for a CPAP Alternative in Denver?

If you can’t adapt to CPAP, it might be time to consider using an oral appliance for your sleep apnea. Many people find an oral appliance easier to use, more comfortable, and more convenient, especially when traveling. Sleep dentists Dr. Kevin Berry or Dr. Kary Berry can evaluate your sleep apnea to see if you are a good candidate for oral appliance therapy.

If you’re looking for for a CPAP alternative in Denver, please call (303) 691-0267 or use our form to contact the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado today to learn if an oral appliance will help with your sleep apnea.