Sleep Disorders and Disability Insurance: A Claimant’s Guide
Sleep is essential to our overall health. Studies show that when we get less than seven hours of sleep each night, we’re more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression. Sadly, about a third of people in the United States consistently get less sleep than they need.
While some people suffer from sleep deprivation due to long nights at the office, lifestyle choices, or the demands of raising a family, others can’t get enough sleep because of medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). When these conditions make it impossible to work, you should consider filing for long-term disability insurance benefits.
Keep reading to learn about sleep disorders like OSA and how sleep disorder-related disability claims work.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder in the United States. According to the National Sleep Foundation, roughly 18 million adults in the U.S. live with OSA.
People with obstructive sleep apnea stop breathing for brief periods of time during sleep because the muscles in the back of their throats fail to keep their airway open. They may repeatedly wake up, gasping for air.
Chronic OSA can leave a person:
- Drowsy and sleep-deprived
- Distracted and unable to recall information
- Depressed and irritable
Many people with sleep apnea find it difficult to concentrate and complete routine tasks, and they may struggle to stay awake when sitting or lying down. In the worst cases, sleep apnea sufferers can experience severe impairment of their ability to think clearly and function normally.
Doctors usually diagnose sleep apnea by performing a sleep study. During a sleep study, you’ll stay at a sleep clinic overnight so physicians and specialists can monitor your sleep quality, breathing patterns, and vital signs. If you stop breathing a certain number of times during the study, you’ll receive a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea.
If you receive an OSA diagnosis, the next step is to get fitted for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. These machines keep your airway open with pressured air, and they serve as the first line of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
However, even though CPAP treatment has a high rate of success, it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people find CPAP masks bothersome and uncomfortable, and others simply can’t sleep due to the noise or presence of the CPAP machine.
Other Common and Potentially Disabling Sleep Disorders
Obstructive sleep apnea is so common that you probably know someone who lives with the disorder if you haven’t experienced it yourself. However, many other common sleep disorders can also impact your health and ability to work.
While many of us have struggled with occasional sleeplessness, chronic insomnia is different. You may have insomnia if you have a hard time falling asleep, frequently wake up and cannot go back to sleep, often wake up too early, or generally feel unrefreshed in the morning. People with chronic insomnia experience these symptoms at least three times per week for a month or more. An estimated one in 10 people suffer from chronic insomnia. Insomnia may accompany mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Hypersomnia and Narcolepsy
Hypersomnia and narcolepsy are two similar disorders that cause excessive sleepiness. People with hypersomnia or narcolepsy experience episodes of uncontrolled daytime drowsiness and involuntary sleep. Sufferers may even fall asleep in potentially dangerous situations such as on the job or behind the wheel of a car.
Typically, hypersomnia and narcolepsy occur due to underlying neurological issues that disrupt the body’s ability to control wakefulness.
Restless Leg Syndrome
People with restless leg syndrome (RLS) experience an overwhelming and intense urge to move their legs while resting. Many sufferers also experience uncomfortable “pins and needles” or “creepy-crawly” sensations in their legs. While RLS most frequently occurs at night, some people with uncontrolled RLS experience symptoms even while they’re just sitting down during the day.
RLS can severely limit a person’s ability to sleep, which can cause daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, and irritability. Sometimes, RLS can stem from an underlying health condition like anemia or from the side effects of certain medications.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Our bodies naturally operate on a 24-hour cycle of activity and rest. Experts call this cycle our circadian rhythm, but many people simply refer to it as their “internal clock.” When something disrupts your circadian rhythm, you may have a hard time falling asleep at the correct time of day, which can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and other symptoms.
RELATED ARTICLE: Why Substance Use and Addiction Can Complicate Your Disability Claim
4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Apply for Long-Term Disability Because of a Sleep Disorder
Before you apply for long-term disability benefits due to the effects of a sleep disorder, you should ask yourself the following questions.
Is My Sleep Disorder Properly Diagnosed and Treated?
Many people experience sleep problems but never seek treatment. For example, the Narcolepsy Network estimates that 75% of people living with narcolepsy go undiagnosed. If you’ve never talked to your doctor about your sleep issues, now is the time to start the conversation.
When you apply for long-term disability insurance benefits, the adjuster will ask for medical records such as sleep study results that document and substantiate your claims. If you don’t have supporting medical records, your claim will become much more difficult.
Am I Complying With My Doctors’ Recommendations?
Do your best to comply with your doctors’ orders. For example, if you’re supposed to wear a CPAP, use it. And if you’re having difficulties tolerating your CPAP, schedule an appointment with your doctor or sleep specialist to explore other options. Many different types of CPAP masks exist, and the first option you try may not be the right one for you. Even if CPAP treatment doesn’t work for you, surgeries and oral appliances exist that may help alleviate your symptoms.
However, if you simply ignore your doctors’ suggestions and don’t make a good-faith effort to receive treatment for your sleep disorder, the insurance company may be able to successfully deny your claim as a result.
Are Issues Like Substance Use Contributing to My Sleep Disorder?
Alcohol abuse and drug abuse can exacerbate certain sleep disorders. While most LTD policies will cover substance abuse-related conditions, the company may only have to pay your benefits for a short period of time — typically two years.
To navigate a claim involving both substance use and a sleep disorder, it’s in your best interest to consult an experienced disability insurance lawyer.
Can I Handle an LTD Claim on My Own?
Before you file a disability insurance application, evaluate your resources and the amount of time you have to devote to your claim. An LTD claim requires attention to detail, persistence, and an ability to carefully analyze plan documents and medical records.
If you’re struggling with severe daytime fatigue, poor concentration, and problems with your executive functioning, these tasks may be more than you can handle. And even people who aren’t suffering from cognitive impairments can struggle with the complexities of a disability claim. Rather than muddling through on your own, consider contacting a knowledgeable disability insurance lawyer who can handle the hard work for you.
RELATED ARTICLE: 5 Essential Questions You Should Ask a Disability Insurance Lawyer
Bryant Legal Group: Chicago’s Trusted Disability Insurance Lawyers
If you’re struggling with a severe sleep disorder and can’t work, the team at Bryant Legal Group is here to help. We assist individuals in Chicago and beyond with complex long-term disability insurance claims. We’ve built a reputation as attorneys who deliver outstanding results thanks to our aggressive legal strategies, compassionate approach to client relationships, and extensive knowledge of the disability system.
Gleeson, J.R. (2017, August 22). 10 alternatives to CPAP for treating obstructive sleep apnea. Michigan Health. Retrieved from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/10-alternatives-to-cpap-for-treating-obstructive-sleep-apnea
Insomnia. (2008). American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Retrieved from https://aasm.org/resources/factsheets/insomnia.pdf
Narcolepsy fast facts. (2015, June). Narcolepsy Network. Retrieved from https://narcolepsynetwork.org/about-narcolepsy/narcolepsy-fast-facts/
Sleep and health among adults in Illinois. (2016, November). National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/pdf/states508/FS_ShortSleepByState_IL_508tagged.pdf
Sleep apnea. (n.d.). National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.