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Hines VA Marine Corps Veteran shines a light on the importance of quality sleep

Jason Torres  holds a tool used in sleep studies to monitor Veterans' brain activity, teeth grinding, eye movements, snoring, and breathing patterns.
Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital sleep Clinic Supervisor Jason Torres holds a tool used in sleep studies to monitor Veterans' brain activity, teeth grinding, eye movements, snoring, leg kicking, and breathing patterns.

The phrase, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’ could bear grim consequences when it comes to one’s overall health, especially for America’s Veterans.

2020 VA study found 57 percent of Post-9/11 Veterans reported insomnia-like symptoms compared to 30 percent of non-Veterans. The total grows to over 90 percent of Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder reporting sleep issues. 

Jason Torres is Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital’s Sleep Clinic supervisor and said many medical professionals have only recently realized how poor sleep habits can lead to sickness and death. 

“If you are not sleeping well at night, then your body does not build up the energy it needs to be active which can cause obesity and give way to health problems like diabetes, heart disease and other conditions that can lead to death,” said Torres, who is also a Marine Corps Veteran. 

Correcting poor sleep habits can be easier said than done. However, Torres recommended several tips for people who struggle with sleep.

“The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that the bedroom be used for sleeping, so there should not be any entertainment nearby like television, iPhones, iPads, or anything like that,” said Torres. “If you train your body to go to sleep when you are in the bedroom then that is what it will do, but if you are in your bed all night looking at a phone or a tablet with bright lights shining in your eyes, your body is not preparing itself to go to sleep.” 

More tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine include: 

  1. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including the weekend 
  2. Ensuring the bedroom is dark, quiet and the temperature is comfortable for sleeping
  3. Engaging in relaxing activities one to two hours before bedtime to develop a bedtime ritual
  4. Avoid drinking liquids and eating a heavy meal two to three hours before bedtime 
  5. Exercise for 30 minutes a day but avoid exercise four to six hours before bedtime

Most sleep issues can be resolved by changing habits but can require medical intervention, Torres explained. Depending on a patient’s symptoms, Veterans at Hines VA may begin with sleep studies. 

“Veterans have the choice to either spend the night in our five-bedroom sleep lab at Hines and have a sleep technologist monitor them for symptoms of conditions, like obstructive sleep apnea, or conduct a sleep test at home with a kit we mail to them,” said Torres. 

Over 400,000 Veterans received VA disability payments for service-connected sleep apnea, and it’s the greatest respiratory disability affecting Veterans, according to VA.

If a sleep test shows signs of sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing to stop for short periods during sleep, Veterans can make an appointment to consult with their primary care provider for treatment. 

One of the most common forms of treatment for sleep apnea at Hines is through the distribution of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines which work by blowing oxygen though a connected mask and into the Veteran’s airway to prevent snoring or obstructions that can cause shallow breathing or stop it altogether. 

“Our CPAP clinic provides Veterans with the CPAP machines and educates them on it promptly after their positive diagnosis, so they can start using it right away,” said Torres. 

For Torres, who also suffers from sleep apnea, his CPAP machine has changed his life. 

“I went from being sluggish in the morning with headaches and no energy to jumping out of bed and being able to focus more,” said Torres. 

Along with the physical results of better sleep, Torres underscores the positive psychological effects. 

“When your brain is resting, you can get that peace of mind.”