A wearable device designed to improve sleep quality by altering brain rhythms could help reduce risk of developing PTSD in military personnel, according to data presented at a conference recently.

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The wearable sleep device is designed to improve sleep quality by allowing users to hear sound translations of their brainwaves.
Image credit: Brain State Technologies

Sleep disturbance is a well-known core feature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one of the most difficult symptoms to manage.

However, evidence is emerging that sleep disturbance is not only a result of PTSD, but may also be involved in causing it.

Now, the developers of a wearable sleep device, in collaboration with neurology researchers, have produced an analysis that suggests improving sleep quality could help reduce new cases of PTSD in service personnel deployed to combat zones.

The team, from Brain State Technologies in Scottsdale, AZ, and Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, presented their ideas and analysis at the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS), held August 15-18, in Kissimmee, FL.

Estimated the reductions in new cases of PTSD

For their analysis, the team used data from a 2013 study published in Sleep of military service members deployed to Iraq after 9/11.

That study had found predeployment insomnia symptoms in combat personnel "were significantly associated with higher odds of developing posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety postdeployment."

The team combined estimates of the extent to which insomnia symptoms might raise risk for PTSD with estimates of how insomnia might be reduced by using Brain State's wearable sleep device, called BRAINtellect 2.

They applied the results to a scenario where large numbers of service personnel are sent to a combat zone and estimated the reductions in new cases of PTSD.

Could also help treat PTSD

Fast facts about PTSD
  • About 7 percent of U.S. civilians have PTSD in their lifetime
  • Research on early years of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq suggests 11-20 percent of veterans developed PTSD
  • PTSD is treatable - even though it is not clear why it occurs in some and not others.

Learn more about PTSD

The wearable sleep device could also help with the treatment of PTSD, say the developers, noting that sleep disturbance is also one of the hardest symptoms of PTSD to treat, with counseling and medication often being largely ineffective.

Dr. Sung Lee, Brain State's director of research, says, "the relationship between sleep problems and post-traumatic stress is highly intimate, probably even at the level of individual neurons."

He suggests sleep disturbance could be an important reason traumatized individuals experience problems using brain circuits that do not relate to the stress response.

The device comprises a u-shaped band embedded with sensors that is worn around the head during sleep.

The sensors pick up brainwaves and send them to a small unit that translates them into sounds of varying pitch and rhythm, which are then played back to the wearer through earbuds.

Brain State say this helps the brain to relax and reorganize itself.

"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."

Lee Gerdes, CEO of Brain State

Brain State developed the wearable device with help by an award from the U.S. Army Research Office.

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