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Finding Non-medication Therapy For Military Insomniacs

Wendy Rigby
Texas Public Radio
The STRONG STAR consortium studies PTSD and its side effects and ways to treat them.

Insomnia is the number one complaint of service members returning from a deployment.  Now,a new published study shows a form of talk therapy may be a highly effective alternative to sleep medications. 

Active duty soldiers often suffer from a lack of sleep. But the military doesn’t want people on duty to suffer side effects of sleep medication.


"If you have to wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle, you may be groggy. You may not be able to respond very well. The military would really prefer to not have people on sleep medications long term," explained

Alan Peterson, Ph.D.,part of the STRONG STAR consortium based at UT Health San Antonio.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Alan Peterson, Ph.D., is a clinical health psychologist specializing in PTSA and resiliency.


That group spearheaded a study involving 100 Army personnel at Fort Hood. The results showed cognitive behavior therapy would help those who had chronic sleep problems. Cognitive behavior therapy is where you talk through problems to change behavior. Step one?

"If an individual is having difficulty with sleeping, they often start to worry about sleep," Peterson said. "And the more you worry about the sleep, the more it interferes with sleep."

Changing thoughts includes reassuring the soldiers that until you get below 4 1/2 hours of sleep per night, there’s no significant change in performance the next day.

Step two involves stimulus control. "We want the bedroom and the bed in particular to be associated just with sleep and sex, but not things like watching television, being on your computer, reading, texting," Peterson added.

Researchers say the military may use this encouraging data to offer more psychological help to military members with insomnia.

Wendy Rigby is a San Antonio native who has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. She spent two decades at KENS-TV covering health and medical news. Now, she brings her considerable background, experience and passion to Texas Public Radio.