1 August 2019

The Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation recently had the honour of hosting Dr Robyn O’Sullivan, a specialist in respiratory and sleep medicine, as an expert panellist on a seminar to discuss the importance of helping veterans improve their sleep.

Dr O’Sullivan is the Clinical Director of Sleep Care sleep laboratory based at Greenslopes Private Hospital. She has extensive experience supporting Veterans with insomnia, having run a weekly veteran sleep clinic for the past twenty years. Dr O’Sullivan is collaborating with GMRF in the recently launched Veteran Sleep Therapy Study, funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, which offers group psychological treatment to improve sleep for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia and nightmares. As part of the initial screening to take part in the study all participants will receive an overnight sleep study through Sleep Care.

On the panel, Dr O’Sullivan provided important insight into the common interrelationship between insomnia and substance use in Veterans. In attempting to cope with insomnia, nightmares, PTSD, or other physical and emotional challenges, some Veterans, like members of the civilian population, self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs. The challenge with this strategy is alcohol and many drugs can interfere with sleep patterns and sleep quality.

“Alcohol is used for self-medicating to help relax and take the edge off the anxiety pertaining to falling asleep and alcohol is effective in that strategy, but sadly alcohol then contributes to sleep disruption overnight and then you’re faced with waking, anxiety about being awake and not being able to return to sleep. So alcohol should be avoided because of this” Dr O’Sullivan.

Similarly with alcohol, individuals using marijuana to cope with insomnia also face increased sleep fragmentation as cannabis users experience increased tolerance to sedation effects with persistent use.

Fortunately, research has found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-i), one of the therapies in the GMRF study, provides practical and effective interventions for sleep disturbances for individuals with and without a history of substance use.

If you or a Veteran you know might be interested in participating in the Veteran Sleep Therapy Study, CLICK HERE for more information and the eligibility criteria.