Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Solution to Sleep Problems from Post-War Trauma

A new pilot study shows a treatment approach that combines cognitive-behavioral therapy with image rehearsal can help shell-shocked veterans find more peaceful sleep. PTSD affects nearly 1 in 4 veterans who served in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Once they return home, as many as 91 percent of veterans report having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

The study involved a group of 22 veterans with sleep problems related to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Half of the veterans received a combination of cognitive-behavioral for insomnia and image rehearsal therapy for PTSD-related nightmares. The control group was assigned prescription drugs including sleeping pills, antidepressants and other mood stabilizers. Both treatments lasted about twelve weeks.

Short term results show the group who received CBT and image rehearsal therapy saw significant improvements in sleep and PTSD symptoms. Due to the sample size and the nature of the pilot study, further research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach.

The study was published in the February issue of Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the official journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The approach used in the study combines two commonly used treatments for related conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the front line treatment for long-term insomnia. And behavioral sleep specialists use image rehearsal therapy to treat nightmare disorder. Both sleep disorders bare similarities to the sleep-related symptoms of PTSD.

Another recent study proposed a more radical treatment for PTSD - sleep avoidance after a traumatic event. The authors theorize the trauma won’t go into memory if you don’t sleep. Sleep after all plays an important role in the development of memories.

Learn more about sleep and memory.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sleep Effects from Alcohol Impact Women More Than Men

If you plan to grab a drink or few this weekend consider this – you may be setting yourself up sleep loss. This warning shouldn’t come as a surprise for readers of the Sleep Education Blog, but there’s more. Women appear to be more prone to alcohol-related sleep problems than men, a new study reports.

Researchers wanted to learn how gender impacts the morning “rebound effect” from alcohol. Generally, you’ll have no problem falling asleep initially after drinking. After several hours you may wake up and be unable to get back to sleep. This may throw off your sleep schedule for days.

A group of 59 female and 34 male subjects drank either alcohol to the point of drunkenness or non-alcoholic beverages. Results show the women who consumed alcohol woke up more often, and lost more sleep than men.

The authors of the study believe differences in alcohol metabolism may explain why women have it worse, however more research is needed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Poor Sleep Worsens Arthritis Patients’ Problems

Pain, fatigue, disability and depression tend to be a struggle for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Poor quality of sleep makes each of the symptoms worse, a study in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reports.

Authors of the study believe treating sleep problems would greatly improve the health and quality of life of patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. They proposed a treatment that combines prescription sleep drugs with cognitive-behavioral therapy. The Sleep Education Blog reports medications are a helpful short-term solution to sleeplessness; cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective way of treating solution insomnia.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling stiffness and loss of function in the joints. The disease affects about 1.3 million Americans, many of whom cannot carry out daily activities such as dressing, walking, grooming and writing.

The study involved 162 patients who were diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at least two years prior to the study. Patients had an average age of about 58 years, and more than three-quarters were female. At the start of the study, the subjects answered questions about sleep quality, depression, fatigue, disability and pain as well as their medical history.

Results show more than half of the patients were poor sleepers. Through analysis, researchers linked poor sleep to higher levels of depression, increased fatigue, greater pain severity and greater functional disability.

The authors of the study determined that pain and fatigue from Rheumatoid Arthritis may in turn cause sleep problems. A third of the patients reported sleep problems due to pain.

The results are similar to findings from an October study that examined patients with non-inflammatory forms of arthritis. That study found near 23 percent of patients with other forms of arthritis have sleep-related complaints.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Researchers Probe Family for Sleepwalking Gene

What’s passed down from your parents, grandparents and ancestors can impact the way you sleep. In some cases, genetics can be beneficial. For instance the short-sleep gene allows people to better cope with sleep loss. Other families have less helpful genes, like vulnerability to insomnia caused by depression. And rarest of all, a few families in the world carry the ticking time bomb of a gene that causes fatal familial insomnia – a degenerative condition that blurs the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness, eventually ending in death.

Somewhere in America, a group of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine have discovered a family with four generations of sleepwalkers. Nine out of 22 members of the family have been sleepwalkers. And they may hold the key to finding the cause - and potentially a cure - for sleepwalking.

So far the researchers have been able to identify the chromosomal location that contains the family’s sleepwalking gene. Further research is needed to identify the exact gene.

It’s been long known that sleepwalking is a highly heritable condition. Sleepwalking and other parasomnias such as sleep talking and bedwetting are not uncommon in childhood. About 10 percent of children sleepwalk compared to only 2 percent of adults.

It appears researchers are closer to learning why that 2 percent still sleepwalk.

Image by Xava du

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Short Sleep Adds to Colon Cancer Risk

A new study shows sleeping less than six hours per night may increase your risk to develop a key sign of early colon cancer by about 50 percent. Patients who reported short sleep durations are far more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal adenomas, a precursor to cancer tumors.

The study involved 1,240 patients scheduled for colonoscopies. The screening results found about 350 of the patients had colorectal adenomas.

Prior to the screening, each patient answered questions about sleep habits from the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index. Patients reported their overall sleep quality during the past month, frequency of insomnia and other details related to sleep.

Study results show colorectal adenomas appeared more frequently among patients who said they slept fewer than six hours each night. The findings were adjusted for other risk factors for colon cancer, such as family history, smoking and obesity.

It’s still not known why short sleep duration may increase the risk for colon cancer. The lead author of the study speculates it may be because of the decrease in melatonin production or the increase in insulin resistance from sleep deprivation.

Colon cancer isn’t the only serious health risk related to sleeplessness. Short sleepers have a higher risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Last year a study found men with chronic insomnia have four times the risk of death compared to men who slept more than six hours per night.

The latest findings clearly demonstrate the importance of sleep to your overall health. Do your body a favor and make sleep a health priority, along with diet and exercise.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sleep Deprivation May Help in Emotional Trauma Treatment

Normally the Sleep Education Blog reports on the numerous physical and mental health problems caused by sleep deprivation. In this one case, sleep deprivation may actually have a benefit. If you don’t sleep after a traumatic event, you may avoid developing PTSD or other anxiety disorders, a recent study reports.

Plenty of studies have shown that sleep is central to the development of memories. This approach to PTSD works the opposite, researchers theorize: Avoid sleeping and avoid the memory-forming mechanism.

So far, sleep restriction has only been used to treat trauma in artificial, academic environments. The approach has not been put to practice with patients at risk for PTSD, such as accident victims or deployed troops.

The double-blind study involved video clips of safe driving with shocking footage of sudden car accidents mixed in. Half of the participants who watched the videos stayed up all night afterwards. The others received a normal night’s sleep.

The group assigned to sleep deprivation had few fear-associated memories of the accident footage, compared to subjects who received a full night’s sleep.

The authors of the study insist sleep deprivation could be a possible therapy for post-traumatic stress or anxiety. Further research is needed before the therapy can be put into practice for real-life traumatic events.