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Sleep Apnea and Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Sleep Apnea?

Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach


If you have sleep apnea and it has impacted your ability to work and hold a job, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but because it is difficult to qualify, you should consider consulting a qualified disability attorney.


sleep apnea disability

If you have sleep apnea and it has impacted your ability to work and hold a job, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but because it is difficult to qualify, you should consider consulting a qualified disability attorney.

More than 18 million people in the United States are affected by sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing while a person is asleep. The person is usually unaware of these occurrences which can have serious consequences like heart disease or falling asleep while driving.


There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and mixed or complex sleep apnea.

Obstruction sleep apnea, or OSA, is the most common and is caused by a blockage of the airway when soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep. When the muscles relax, the airway narrows or closes and the person can’t get enough air. The brain senses this inability to breathe and wakes the person so they can begin breathing normally again. These occurrences are so brief the person doesn’t even remember them.


In central sleep apnea the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal muscles to breathe and the person makes no effort to breathe for short periods.

The person might wake with shortness of breath or have difficulty getting back to sleep or staying asleep. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.


Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Sleep Apnea. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!


No matter what type of sleep apnea a person has, they stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep.

When a person stops breathing, the brain and rest of the body do not get enough oxygen. These stoppages occur repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times and often for one minute or longer. If untreated, sleep apnea can cause daytime fatigue, memory problems, weight gain and headaches. The condition can also adversely impact job performance and carries the risk of heart disease, diabetes, liver problems and auto accidents. Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even children, but men and people who are overweight are more at risk than others.


An individual affected by sleep apnea may not be aware they have stopped breathing while asleep and it may take someone watching them to notice; however, other symptoms may alert them to the condition.

  •    Sleepiness during the day
  •   Loud snoring
  •   Waking up with a sore throat or a dry throat
  •   Morning headaches
  •   Frequent waking or insomnia
  •   Occasionally waking with a gasping sensation
  •   Sleepiness while driving
  •   Forgetfulness or mood changes
  •   Difficulty paying attention while awake


If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor will perform a polysomnogram.

During this test electrodes are attached to a patient’s face and scalp to electronically record and transmit specific physical activities while a person is asleep. Belts are also placed around the chest and abdomen to measure breathing.


Treatment of sleep apnea combines the use of specially designed devices and home treatment.

The most common treatment is CPAP, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. This treatment involves wearing a mask that is connected to a machine that delivers a constant flow of air to the nose, keeping the airways open so that the individual can breathe normally. Surgery may be recommended for patients with enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum.


There are also a number of practices a person can do on their own:

  •   Lose weight
  •    Do not use alcohol or sleeping pills
  •   Change sleep positions to improve breathing
  •   Stop smoking


Sleep apnea does not have a specific listing in Social Security’s Blue, but it is mentioned under Section 3.00 Respiratory Disorders.

P. What are sleep-related breathing disorders and how do we evaluate them?

  1.   Sleep-related breathing disorders (for example, sleep apnea) are characterized by transient episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep, which disrupt normal sleep patterns. Prolonged episodes can result in disorders such as hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) and pulmonary vasoconstriction (restricted blood flow in pulmonary blood vessels). Over time, these disorders may lead to chronic pulmonary hypertension or other complications.
  2.   We evaluate the complications of sleep-related breathing disorders under the listings in the affected body system(s). For example, we evaluate chronic pulmonary hypertension due to any cause under 3.09; chronic heart failure under 4.02; and disturbances in mood, cognition, and behavior under 12.02 or another appropriate mental disorders listing. We will not purchase polysomnography (sleep study).


Most applicants will find it difficult to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits automatically with a diagnosis of sleep apnea unless they can prove their disability is related to heart failure, chronic pulmonary hypertension, or a neurocognitive disorder.

If you have sleep apnea, but your disability does not match one of Social Security’s impairment listings, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another impairment; for example, high blood pressure or diabetes. Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book. However, if an applicant has multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit an applicant’s ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks. In any case, you must have an actual diagnosis confirmed by a polysomnogram and statements by medical providers detailing your capabilities and limitations. For example, because of sleepiness during the day, you may not be able to operate machinery. Social Security will also evaluate how your limitations affect your ability to work (called a medical-vocational allowance), taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and level of education. They will test your “residual functional capacity” (RFC) which is a measure of how the disease affects your everyday job performance. The fatigue associated with sleep apnea, particularly chronic or severe sleep apnea, can lead to physical and cognitive impairment.


In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.

The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   The Current Work Test.   Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.

The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   Is your medical condition severe?    Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
  3.   Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments?   The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
  4.   Can you do the work you did before?   SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
  5.   Can you do any other type of work?   If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.


More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.


If you have sleep apnea and it has impacted your ability to work and hold a job, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but because it is difficult to qualify, you should consider consulting a qualified disability attorney.


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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.


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"Words can not truly express the gratitude that I feel toward Mr. Lonnie Roach and his professional team. I give them an A+++. Very compassionate and prompt. Their priorities are first and foremost helping you succeed at your case. When you feel helpless, feeling like someone is on your side can mean the world to you. Thank you for working for the people."
-Amy K.


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Attorney Lonnie RoachAuthor: Attorney Lonnie Roach has been practicing law for over 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Roach obtained board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Highly experienced in Long Term Disability denials and appeals governed by the “ERISA” Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Austin Bar Association, and is a past the director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association (Director 1999-2005) Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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