Last summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs was tasked with a strange goal. The VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation asked the VA to find ways to address the epidemic that was claims being filed for those veterans suffering from sleep apnea.
When one looks at the numbers of those claiming to be a victim of sleep apnea, one can understand the cause for alarm. Since the events of September 11, 2001, those veterans receiving compensation due to complications from sleep apnea increase 25-fold, with 13 percent of all veterans receiving compensation claiming benefits due to sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OAS, is the most common form of sleep apnea and is caused whenever the soft tissue surrounding the throat collapses in during sleep, obstructing breathing airways. The most common cause of OAS? Being overweight.
Dr. Lisa Liberatore, an otolaryngologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, has stated that her clinics most oft given advice from those who suffer from sleep apnea is a little bit of exercise and a healthier diet: “Our approach to treating obstructive sleep apnea is always to address any weight issues. We have many examples of when patients lose weight their snoring and apnea reduces significantly. A proactive approach is even better. Telling and showing patients how weight gain — even modest amounts — can and will lead to sleep apnea is a powerful message.”
Due to sleep apnea being caused mainly by being overweight or obese, it should come as no surprise that sleep apnea may have an adverse affect on one’s diabetes condition.
A recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care reports that sleep apnea can worsen one’s longtime control over blood sugar levels in patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes.
Those who suffer from sleep apnea average 4 hours per night of CPAP usage, a breathing machine which forces air into breathing pathways, keeping the throat open and the patient able to breathe. This low amount of CPAP usage means that most patients suffer from apneas, or pauses in breathing, during REM sleep. Researchers at the University of Chicago discovered in their study that proper REM sleep is key to reducing the amount of glycated hemoglobin, a measure of the amount of glucose in one’s body over longer periods of time.
Those sleep apnea patients who wore their CPAP mask for 7 hours or more during the night saw a 1% decrease in levels of glycated hemoglobin, a positive sign for those suffering from diabetes.
In light of all the information presented here, the task for the Department of Veterans Affairs should now be easy: If one wants to reduce the amount of benefits received from patients claiming to suffer from sleep apnea, doctors should recommend a healthier diet and exercise. But then again, that may make too much sense.
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