New Trauma-Related Military Sleep Disorder Discovered

Technology puts the answers to so many questions at our fingertips that sometimes it’s hard to believe that we don’t know it all. But there is still so much to learn, research, discover, prove and disprove. The recent discovery of a new trauma-associated sleep disorder proves that there’s still so many unknowns right in front of us. Trauma-associated sleep disorder, or TSD for short (for now–an official name has not yet been bestowed) is estimated to be the first new adult sleep disorder identified in over 35 years.

Other studies have orbited around TSD over the years. However this study, which took place at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland was the largest. It’s also the first to identify TSD as a distinct sleep-related disorder. TSD flew under the radar for so long because its symptoms are very close to other diagnoses including post-traumatic stress (PTS), rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD), and nightmare disorder. What makes TSD unique is that its symptoms appear to mainly present themselves at night. Other similar disorders like PTS present during the daytime as well. 

The five-year long study was made up of 40 service-members. All of the participants experienced trauma during their service, largely during combat. The study found that TSD can be similar to RBD, in that both include dream enactment. However, TSD goes beyond dream enactment and appears to include repeating the nightmares about the patient’s trauma, which are oftentimes vivid. There are also symptoms of autonomic hyperarousal–when a patient’s heart rate and/or respiratory rate get faster/higher during sleep, because a fight or flight response has been triggered.

The study, which has been hailed as “groundbreaking,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in August 2022. Though it’s the first to officially identify and classify the disorder, it’s not a new disorder. One of the study’s co-authors, U.S. Army Col. (Dr.) Vincent Mysliwiec has been researching TSD since 2003. He observed it often in active-duty service members experiencing traumatic nightmares upon their return to combat. These patients often failed to meet the diagnostic criteria for PTS or RBD. With this discovery comes more research. That will hopefully lead to understanding how to further diagnose and treat the disorder. 

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Posted on November 7 2022 in Blog

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