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The Link Between Sleep & PTSD

December 10, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — sleepdunwoodyteam @ 7:09 pm

Psychological trauma is complex, and there is a lot that researchers and health professionals are still learning. Trauma may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or events such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, abuse, or injury. These scary, unsettling memories, and the emotions tied to them, can be long-lasting, and even develop into a disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Therapy, a strong support system, and medication in appropriate cases are all possible treatments for trauma and PTSD. Certainly, however, preventing PTSD from developing, or at least lessening its impact upon development, is ideal in order to reduce the emotional, mental, and even physical toll of the condition.


That’s where sleep may come in. 

The Study

Researchers have found ties between increasing time asleep directly after a traumatic event and decreasing the trauma’s negative effects. According to the study’s lead author, “if you can improve sleep, you can improve function” following trauma. This potential connection between sleep and trauma recovery could lead to big changes in how PTSD is treated in the future.

Rats in the study were subjected to a PTSD-inducing rodent model. The researchers then observed a control group of rats and a group of rats that received optogenetic stimulation, a specific type of stimulation that uses light to activate the melanin-concentrating hormone, which plays a role in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. The optogenetic stimulation increased the time length of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep associated with learning and memory.

The Results

The researchers then assessed the rats’ behavior after this portion of the study by having them partake in a classical conditioning experiment involving memory.

At the end of the three-day experiment, it was found that the rats who experienced the stimulation and thus received more time asleep were able to more successfully let go of the traumatic memory caused by the PTSD model than the control group. 

According to ScienceDaily, the research may lead to advancements in therapy for individuals who are routinely exposed to trauma, “such as active military personnel and first responders, and also those who are victims of sudden traumatic events, such as an accident, a natural disaster, violence, or abuse.” While it may not be feasible to induce sleep in those facing life-threatening injuries, in other practical circumstances, the researchers conclude it could prove beneficial to the patient’s trauma recovery. The researchers also pointed out that while enhanced sleep may mitigate traumatic effects immediately after the traumatic event, it may or may not be effective for events in the past. 

Diving Deeper: PTSD and Sleep Apnea

Sleep and PTSD are intrinsically connected — one of the cognitive impacts of PTSD is the inability to get healthy sleep. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, many sleep disorders can stem from PTSD. These include:

  • Chronic nightmares
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
  • Sleep terrors
  • Sleep walking and talking
  • Insomnia
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

There’s a strong link between PTSD and the development of sleep apnea. 

A study of military personnel showed that from 2001-2009, the rate of personnel with obstructive sleep apnea multiplied by 5.8 times. And in a 2012 study, of a “sample of 78 individuals seeking treatment for post-traumatic sleep disturbances after being evacuated from a fire, 95% of those tested (50% of the subjects) experienced diminished airflow during sleep suggestive of sleep disordered breathing. Among 44 consecutive crime victims with PTSD reporting nightmares and insomnia, 91% had sleep-disordered breathing.”

While the occurrence of traumatic events may unfortunately be unavoidable, what can be helped is treating any sleep-related breathing disorders that may develop as a result. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Many patients prefer oral appliances as a treatment for sleep apnea as opposed to the traditional CPAP treatment. While effective for treating all stages of sleep apnea, many patients find CPAP to be bulky, loud, and uncomfortable, creating low adherence. Oral appliances, on the other hand, are small, comfortable, and effective for many sleep apnea cases, and tolerance is far higher. If you’re interested in an oral appliance for the treatment of sleep apnea, schedule a free consultation with us today.

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