A new study published in the American Journal of Sleep Medicines’ periodical “Sleep”, reported that up to 70% of PTSD suffers battle insomnia in one form or another. It also concluded that the severity of painful memories, nightmares and anxiety increased exponentially in relation to the level of sleep difficulty one is having.
The full study also concluded that patients suffering from both insomnia and PTSD had a decrease in their positive image in their general mental health.
So what is actually happening in the PTSD brain that may be causing all this insomnia? The causes and conditions are numerous, but a diagnostic procedure called QEEG may shed light on the potential source of the problem.
What we do know is that through brain maps, or QEEG’s, we can see that the part of the brain called the amygdala tends to harbor a tremendous amount of high alpha brainwave activity. This high alpha carries sizable spikes of amplitude within the amygdala itself and seems to try to purge this bio-electrical activity out while asleep. This is most likely why people with PTSD report “being jolted” out of sleep over and over again.
The brain is most relaxed during the process of sleeping, so it makes logical sense that the self healing nature of the human brain would want to jettison the high alpha and let go of the trauma during this time of night. But there seems to be a design flaw in the system. Every time the brain attempts this purge, it bounces off the neo-cortex (the outer brain layer) that is in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance, or high anxiety. Sadly this purge attempt of amplitude has no where to go and is delivered back into the amygdala to cause even more suffering.
This happens over and over again, night after night. Fragmented sleep, repeated nightmares of the trauma event just keep coming. In the mean time the exhaustion of not sleeping starts to break down just about everything. This is why returning war vets are not responding to the usual treatments for depression and anxiety, it simply sourced in a different part of the brain.
But there is hope, a treatment process called neurofeedback is holding promise where other treatment are failing. With neurofeedback, also known as brainwave biofeedback, the outer layer of the neo-cortex is trained to surrender the hyper-vigilance and relax. This is the first stage of treatment. The second stage is a protocol that teaches the amygdala to reduce and release the high alpha amplitude at it’s source.
The beauty of neurofeedback and it’s partner protocol, alpha theta, is that there is no talk therapy or medications involved in the treatment process whatsoever. It does take a commitment to 30-40 sessions but this is a small price to pay for relief.
To view a video of an Iraqi War Veteran being treated with neurofeedback, click here.
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