Recent studies estimate that nearly 70 percent of Americans have experienced some type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at least once. While the numbers are likely to lean heavier for military personnel, this psychological condition affects more than combat veterans.
Studies have shown that sleep disturbance is not only a side-effect of PTSD, but in many cases, it can cause the onset of PTSD. As such, scientists at the Brain State Technologies are investigating whether regulating sleep could improve PTSD incidences. In particular, they are collaborating with scientists at the Wake Forest School of Medicine to create a wearable neurotechnology device that could improve sleep, and thereby reducing PTSD episodes.
Without a doubt, sleep is an absolute necessity for normal functioning. Though scientists are still working out what happens in the brain when we doze off, they think sleep time is an essential component to brain recovery – a time when neuron connections are pruned and enhanced, when waste products get cleaned out.
These basic biological processes afforded by sleep are even more crucial for people recovering from traumatic events. As Dr. Sung Lee, Director of Research at Brain State Technologies explained, "the relationship between sleep problems and post-traumatic stress is highly intimate, probably even at the level of individual neurons. Sleep disturbance may be a key reason why traumatized individuals have difficulty engaging neural circuits that do not relate to the stress response."
Indeed, another study found that “the risk [for PTSD] conferred by insomnia symptoms was almost as strong as... combat exposure." The study cohort in this case were military service members who were in Iraq after 9/11.
These findings prompted Lee to develop a technology that could help patients track and regulate their sleep. Furthermore, their wearable device is designed to enhance the sleeping quality of patients, so as to treat PTSD before it worsens.
"We are very excited about presenting this analysis to military health researchers, because prevention efforts tend to get too little attention. We think that focus on sleep quality could reduce PTSD not only in the military, but also in police, medical first-responders, and others who have high exposure to trauma,” said Lee Gerdes, founder and CEO of Brain State Technologies.
The potential for this wearable device is huge. Aside from the benefits at the individual level, it could significantly reduce the health burden costs associated with PTSD. The current estimate finds PTSD costs over $42.3 billion annually, which includes medical treatment costs, workplace costs, and mortality costs.
Additional sources: PTSD United
, Brain State Technologies