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Researcher explores cognitive behavioral therapy on active-duty military personnel

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Posted: Monday, November 1, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:19 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

Insomnia can be a cruel cycle, especially for combat veterans.

Many soldiers return from war with psychological health problems that cause insomnia, which in turn exacerbates those root causes. Others return mentally healthy but can't again normalize their sleep patterns after months of little or interrupted rest.

Prescription drugs can ease insomnia but often come with their own set of problems, particularly in combat, where altertness is imperative.

One Texas academic has partnered with a veterans research consortium to try to break that cycle.

Dr. Daniel Taylor, a University of North Texas associate professor of psychology, has received a $1.16 million grant from the Defense Department to determine the effectiveness of online and face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy on active-duty military personnel with insomnia over the next four years.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that thoughts control emotions and actions, and that people can change their behaviors to improve their mental health. With regard to insomnia, said Taylor, people can learn to keep to a regular sleep schedule and not watch TV or perform other non-sleep activities in bed, among other behaviors.

Such therapies, especially face-to-face therapy, have proven successful and led to voluntary decreased medication consumption in civilian populations, said Taylor, but have yet to be widely tested in active-duty military populations. He is also interested in whether or not the online therapy will be more successful in military populations.

Taylor hopes his findings can help the military help its members.

"The overall goal is that this is going to help us determine how to best treat active-duty soldiers who have sleep problems," he said, which could lead to decreased suicide rates among soldiers and increased battle readiness.

Insomnia is defined as significant difficulties falling or staying asleep that interfere with daytime activities for more than one month, Taylor said.

According to data in the May 2010 Medical Surveillance Report, a Defense Department publication, insomnia rates among solders have grown every year since at least 2000, peaking at 226 per 10,000 soldiers in 2009. The report also shows that insomnia rates among Army personnel are higher than in any other branch of the military.

Up to 40 percent of insomniacs have concurrent psychological conditions, and insomniacs have been shown to be at higher risk of work- and vehicle-related accidents, the report states.

Taylor is working with the South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience, or STRONG STAR, in his research. By next spring, they will recruit 189 Fort Hood soldiers with chronic insomnia to receive three sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy over six weeks, either in person from Fort Hood clinicians or through an online program. There will also be a wait list of interested personnel, which will function as the control group.

Taylor will compare the efficacy of online versus face-to-face therapy, as patients report changes in mood, substance use and abuse, and other factors.

Research will begin in the spring. Interested soldiers should look for fliers around post at that time.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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