Here’s a frightening statistic: every day, 22 American heroes commit suicide because of the stress they experienced on the battlefield in the past. Furthermore, many avoid treatment for their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and find their lives spiraling out of control. But what is PTSD, and how does it impact these veterans in such a devastating manner? People who suffer from PTSD often relive their traumatic experience through nightmares and flashbacks and feel detached or estranged; these symptoms can be severe enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.
Dr. Charles W. Hoge conducted a study wherein he discovered that roughly 300,000 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), with the majority going untreated. In addition, Dr. Hoge argues that the criteria utilized to assess TBI in veterans is inherently flawed and connects symptoms of TBI to PTSD, establishing a need to address both conditions.
Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System believe they may have found a way to improve the treatment of these conditions in veterans: simply getting more sleep. However, one of the primary symptoms of both TBI and PTSD is difficulty sleeping. TBI patients can suffer from permanent sleep problems, regardless of the severity of their initial injury. Approximately 40% to 65% of individuals have insomnia after mild TBI, while patients with sleep difficulties are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.
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The review has also found that even after symptoms of TBI and/or PTSD subside, veterans continue to sleep poorly, which, in turn, continues to adversely impact daily functioning negatively.
According to the researchers, sleep is critical for restorative processes and evaluation of sleep problems should be integral to the clinical management of PTSD and TBI. “Understanding sleep problems and their role in the development and maintenance of PTSD and TBI symptoms may lead to improvement in overall treatment outcomes,” added Dr. Yelena Bogdanova, the lead author of the study’s publication. “Future research efforts,” she proposes, “should target the development of sleep-focused interventions.”
A recent study conducted by Dr. Kyunghee Koh of Thomas Jefferson University might be able to contribute to this growing issue. In this study, Dr. Koh has suggested the existence of a molecular mechanism that regulates sleep. Perhaps by utilizing this study and manufacturing a drug targeting this particular sleep mechanism, we can help our veterans on their path to recovery from PTSD and TBI.