Recent Advancements in Treating Sleep Disorders in Veterans with PTSD

Sleep disorders contribute to major depression, substance abuse, impaired daytime functioning, negative health consequences, and suicide risk.  Individuals with PTSD are more likely to have sleep disorders such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and nightmares.  It is known that untreated sleep disorders can interfere with PTSD treatment, so addressing sleep disorders in Veterans with PTSD is crucial to improving their medical and mental health and quality of life.

Disrupted REM Sleep, Memory, and PTSD

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and sleep problems are common among Service Members and military Veterans. Sleep problems may interfere with ability to recover from a traumatic event and can affect how well people with PTSD respond to current treatments.  Certain stages of sleep, such as rapid eye movement (REM) phase, are particularly important for retaining and modifying emotional and traumatic memories.  CESAMH investigator Dr. Risbrough and colleagues are examining the role of REM sleep in how fear memories are retained.  They are also looking at whether or not loss of REM affects people’s ability to regulate their responses to fearful and emotional memories.  To accomplish this, individual’s REM sleep will be altered either by disrupting it (waking people up) or changing circadian rhythms, the body’s clock (similar to the effects of jet lag).  The researchers will study the effect of altering REM sleep on fear memory processes that are associated with developing and recovering from PTSD. Also, they will examine medications that increase REM during sleep to see if this improves the ability to regulate fear memory responses.  Findings from this project may lead to new treatments for PTSD and potential new ways to prevent the development of PTSD.

A Different Approach to Treating Combat-Related Conditions

Combat stress can lead to a number of impactful emotional and cognitive conditions, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI). Because symptoms of these disorders tend to overlap, they are often managed with similar medications. The most commonly prescribed medication for these conditions is Sertraline, but it has not been fully successful. To help improve treatment response, CESAMH investigators are exploring a different approach to understanding and treating the symptoms of combat-related conditions.

Instead of using a diagnosis to determine treatment, CESAMH researchers are looking to identify the brain areas involved in producing symptoms associated with PTSD, MDD and mTBI. Their approach is to identify individuals with similar patterns in brain activity. They theorize that understanding the brain areas involved may provide more useful information about successful treatments than using traditional clinical diagnoses. This study is one of the first to link clinical research and clinical practice to best benefit our Veterans.

PTSD & the Brain

Watch this educational whiteboard video for the Public and Veterans. The following short animated video uses hand-drawn images to help you learn about PTSD and the brain.

PTSD Research Quarterly: PTSD & Accelerated Aging

For hundreds of years, scientists have recognized that the human body is highly sensitive to the external environment. In the mid-1800s, Claude Bernard, who is credited with being among the first to develop and apply scientific methods of experimentation to the study…

Medication May Improve the Benefits of PTSD Psychotherapy

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often have serious problems with alcohol (AUD). Recent research suggests that the medication, topiramate (TOP), may improve the benefits of therapy for those with PTSD and AUD. How TOP affects the brain areas involved in PTSD and AUD is not yet understood.

Is PTSD Associated with Earlier Aging?

Most people think that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is only a mental health issue. However, there is evidence to show that PTSD is associated with earlier onset of age-related medical illnesses, higher risk of decline in thinking skills such as memory or problem solving, and earlier death. Researchers are now investigating the possibility that PTSD is speeding up the aging process.

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