Sleep Can Play Important Role in PTSD


Researchers say reporting and seeking treatment may be beneficial


By Courtney Mabeus , News-Post Staff


As many as 90 percent of soldiers returning from deployment may report suffering from disrupted sleep, Army Col. Carl Castro, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program at Fort Detrick, said Tuesday.

While not all of those soldiers will wind up reporting or seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, Army officials are studying what role sleep — or lack thereof — plays in the illness and how to keep the warfighter healthy.

Those comments came during a roundtable on the role of sleep in PTSD on Tuesday during the Military Health System Research Symposium happening through Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The annual symposium offers a chance for military health researchers to discuss scientific advances in care for warfighters in a collaborative and academic environment.

The Army estimates as many as 10 percent to 17 percent of soldiers who deploy may suffer from PTSD. As wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are preparing to help soldiers return to civilian life.

Sleep disruptions, including insomnia and nightmares, are common symptoms of PTSD. Keeping a normal sleep schedule can be tough to maintain in a combat zone. Long-term sleep disruption can have a cognitive effect that reduces response times.

Young, active men need about nine hours of sleep per night, Castro said. Until recently, some branches of the military believed only six hours of sleep nightly was necessary.

The Army is constantly educating and training on the importance of sleep to help change attitudes, Castro said.

“People aren’t the same when they’re under a sleep restriction or when they’re not sleeping well,” Castro said.

Complicating the issue, people who don’t sleep well immediately before or after a traumatic experience have greater instances of PTSD, said Dr. Anne Germain, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. Germain, who studies sleep disturbances in PTSD, is collaborating with the military’s work on the issue.

The VA and Defense departments, in addition to studying drugs to help treat PTSD, are researching behavioral and drug-based treatments for sleep disturbances. Behavioral treatments have worked better, researchers said.

While many returning soldiers may complain of initial sleep disruptions, VA’s Dr. Jim Spira, who directs the department’s Pacific island division of the National Center for PTSD, said establishing a routine, regimented nightly schedule and abstaining from certain habits — such as eating large meals and drinking alcohol before bedtime — may help deter long-term problems.

People are also more likely to come forward to report trouble sleeping, whereas PTSD still carries a stigma, researchers said.

“Usually people are willing to seek care to alleviate sleep disturbances,” Germain said.

But Castro was careful to point out that while sleep disturbances can be a symptom in PTSD, improving sleep doesn’t mean that the disorder as a whole has been addressed completely.

“Effectively treated sleep doesn’t mean you’ve effectively treated PTSD,” Castro said.


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