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  • NHRC Sleep Lab Hosts Insomnia Workshop

    SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) hosted its first insomnia workshop to bring researchers and clinicians together to discuss collaborative opportunities for addressing insomnia and sleep-related problems in service members, Nov. 20. 

    "The main objective for hosting this event was to discuss how we can improve the way we prevent, diagnose, and treat insomnia in our Sailors and Marines," said Dr. Rachel Markwald, sleep research physiologist and director of NHRC's sleep lab, who organized the workshop. "Perhaps, the most important aspect was getting local area military providers together and engaged about sleep issues and how they impact operational readiness." 

    Attendees included primary care physicians, clinical psychologists, social workers, and sleep specialists from the San Diego region including Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), the Concussion Care Clinic at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, and OASIS, a residential treatment program in San Diego for active duty patients with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    "Obtaining healthy sleep is foundational to having a healthy brain," said Cmdr. Paul Sargent, director of the Concussion Care Clinic. "We must use sleep to not only foster high performance, but also resilience in the face of adversity. The cognitive demands on warfighters have never been higher. Well-rested fighters will have increased vigilance, faster reaction times, and better problem- solving skills. Collaborative efforts will not only prevent disability and improve recovery times it will also lay the foundation for more effective human performance programs in the future and positively impact our ability to accomplish the challenging missions which we are assigned."

    A special guest was Dr. Anne Germain, associate professor of psychiatry, psychology, and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Germain discussed her research on the mechanisms underlying sleep disturbances, especially within the context of PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI), and her work developing and adapting evidence-based behavioral treatments.

    During the day-long workshop, participants discussed current approaches for treating insomnia and fatigue, specific barriers to treatment, evidence-based pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment options, and better ways to provide care and treatment for patients with insomnia and sleep-related problems from initial complaint through diagnosis and treatment. 

    "As far as I know, this is the first time we've had people from all these different areas come together to discuss sleep problems and the way forward for helping our patients," said Capt. Tony Han, a Navy physician and director of NMCSD's Sleep Lab. "Our goal was to put our minds together and look at how we can collaborate to improve treatment for insomnia. This capability affects all of our Sailors and Marines, because sleep is critical for mental resilience, physical performance, and our ability to bounce back from injuries."

    According to Markwald, the workshop was instrumental in helping her and her team better understand how NHRC's sleep lab can support the different clinics and health care providers. Limited resources have prevented the traditional implementation of these treatments at most clinics; however, adapting these approaches to account for the challenges and uniqueness of each military treatment facility is possible and needed. The NHRC sleep team is currently collaborating with NMCSD's Sleep Lab to perform research that addresses these needs. 

    "The current practices for treating insomnia need improvement," said Markwald. "There needs to be a push to increase patient access to evidence-based, non-pharmacological treatment options. Medications used to promote sleep can have side effects, interactions with other prescriptions, dependency issues, and doesn't treat the underlying cause in most cases." 

    "Moving forward, we want to consider future collaborations and research projects about how we can provide better avenues for educating our Sailors and Marines about proper sleep, sleep hygiene, and the problems associated with sleep loss," said Han. "We want to improve awareness of the importance of sleep in everyday life as well as in the military." 

    As the DoD's premier deployment health research center, NHRC's cutting-edge research and development is used to optimize the operational health and readiness of the nation's armed forces. In proximity to more than 95,000 active duty service members, world-class universities, and industry partners, NHRC sets the standard in joint ventures, innovation, and translational research.


    (Image above: Dr. Rachel Markwald, sleep research physiologist and director of NHRC's sleep lab.)

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