10 October 2019

The Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation recently had the privilege of hosting Dave Morgan, as a Vietnam Veteran and panellist, on a seminar to discuss the importance of helping Veterans improve their sleep. Dave is the author of two books that explore his experience in Vietnam and his work for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Antarctica.

Dave shared powerful insights into the lived experience of being diagnosed with PTSD and his experience of ongoing nightmares since Vietnam. For many Veterans like Dave, reoccurring nightmares can feel like the continual replaying of a traumatic event and this can understandably impact on the way they think about and behave around sleep.

“Every time I go to bed, my bed represents my pit-hole [referring to trauma experience]. I’m afraid of the dark and I can’t even sleep under any blankets, or I just sleep on top of my bed…. Before I go to bed I check all the doors, any sound it just spooks me, and [when] I go to sleep within an hour I’m reliving my nightmare; I’m dying, I can’t breathe, I’m choking, and that’s my nightmare”

Dave’s story demonstrates that initially insomnia and nightmares may develop in response to trauma experiences as part of the natural survival instinct and the hyperarousal nature of PTSD. However, after time, insomnia and nightmares can become associated with new or learned behaviours and thoughts around sleep, which can independently contribute to ongoing poor sleep.

The ongoing impact of bedtime stimuli on sleep was also discussed by seminar attendee and GMRF Veteran Ambassador, Tim Thomas:
“Acoustic stimuli make a big difference [on hypervigilance] because at night all small sounds get amplified; which in turn adds to the problem of quality sleep.”

The Veteran Sleep Therapy Study, funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, utilises two therapies which address the unhelpful learned behaviours and thoughts about sleep which perpetuate chronic insomnia and nightmares. There is evidence for the effectiveness of these therapies to improve individuals sleep quality.

“When I heard that this sleep study was coming about I was like finally, finally, there’s something that’s going to actually make permanent difference to the people that need it.” Tim Thomas (Commando in Your Corner).

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.