UA PTSD Study Seeks Participants to Help Understand and Provide Solutions for Sleep Struggles

Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting a decent night’s sleep is a common struggle among people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and the lack of sleep can make PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, flashbacks and memory problems even worse.

Seeking to provide non-medication-based sleep relief for people suffering from PTSD, University of Arizona sleep researcher William D. “Scott” Killgore, PhD, and his colleagues at the Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience Lab are testing the effectiveness of light exposure to enhance sleep. The study will assess the influence of morning exposure to bright light and its effect on sleep, mood and mental functioning

The researchers are recruiting people, ages 18-50, who have been diagnosed with PTSD to participate in the study. The Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience Lab, known as the SCAN lab, will conduct neuropsychological tests, brain scans and sleep assessments on two occasions to test the effectiveness of a bright light-emitting device on sleep. Participants will be asked to use the light for a half-hour each day for six weeks and also will be asked to wear an activity monitor during sleep and wake hours.

Those who enroll will receive as much as $1,200 for the full completion of all study activities.   

Current treatment options for PTSD are limited and their effectiveness differs among individuals and sleep problems are among the most common complaints of people suffering from post-traumatic stress. Unfortunately, most sleep-related medications can become habit forming or lead to other negative side effects, so novel approaches for improving sleep without medications are needed, said Dr. Killgore, a professor of psychiatry and medical imaging at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Killgore’s study aims to test the effectiveness of light therapy for improving sleep-wake patterns among people struggling after a traumatic experience. “The hope is that these approaches will improve sleep and other symptoms naturally without the need for medications. Our aim is to identify non-medication-based relief for people with PTSD who have trouble sleeping,” he said.

Dr. Killgore remains active as a research psychologist in the U.S. Army Reserve, currently holding the rank of lieutenant colonel. With more than 15 years of military service, including five years on active duty as a medical service corps officer and research psychologist in the U.S. Army during the Global War on Terror, Dr. Killgore is committed to understanding the factors affecting the mental health, wellbeing and performance of military personnel and combat veterans.

The study will use brain imaging techniques to evaluate brain function and structure before and after the six-week light exposure period to identify and map the brain’s systems before and after the light exposure. “We hope to gain insights into the relationship between PTSD, light exposure, sleep and brain function,” said Dr. Killgore.

Dr. Killgore’s research is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to address critical performance and mental health needs of active military personnel and returning combat veterans.

To learn more about the study, please call 520-626-8573 or email

An Institutional Review Board responsible for human subjects research at the University of Arizona reviewed these research projects and found them to be acceptable, according to applicable state and federal regulations and UA policies designed to protect the rights and welfare of research participants.

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