A new University of Pennsylvania study links insomnia in soldiers and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sleep researcher Philip Gehrman used data from the military’s Millennium Cohort Study, which tracks the health of service members over time. He focused on participants who filled out surveys before and after deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan — and found that pre-existing sleep issues such as insomnia were a significant risk factor in developing Post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues.
One explanation for this connection could be the role sleep plays in regulating emotions, Gehrman said.
“When we don’t sleep well, our brain is not as adept at regulating our emotions, so we are more likely to respond to a situation with a stronger emotional reaction,” he explained. “I think not sleeping well when you were entering deployment made it more difficult for you to regulate your emotions in the face of these intense combat situations.”
Gehrman says the findings have a positive aspect.
“At least, this is something we can do something about,” he said. “There are treatments for sleeping problems that are known to be effective. So I would love to see, down the line, routine screening and treatment for sleep problems in military populations.”
Gehrman says while soldiers are notoriously reluctant to discuss mental health issues, most people feel comfortable talking about sleeping problems. He adds that the military is increasingly interested in the health aspects of getting good night’s rest.