The effects of PTSD can be debilitating. It’s one reason why neuroscientist Willie Vanderheyden—an assistant research professor in the Washington State University (WSU)’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine—has set out to better understand the condition and its ties to sleep, according to a report from the university.

“Up to 90 percent of people who have experienced trauma suffer from some type of sleep disturbance, whether it’s fragmented sleep, difficulty falling or staying asleep, or nightmares,” Vanderheyden said.

These sleep disturbances may be the result of PTSD, but Vanderheyden says it’s also possible that they are part of what is causing PTSD.

“We have troops that are out on patrol for multiple days and may or may not be getting any sleep during that time,” he said. “I’ve hypothesized that if veterans are experiencing sleep loss prior to experiencing trauma, it might increase their susceptibility to getting PTSD.”

With funding from a $280K grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense-administered Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, Vanderheyden is conducting a study that uses a rodent model of PTSD to test this hypothesis. As part of this research, he will also look at whether improving sleep following trauma exposure could help ease the behavioral symptoms seen in PTSD.

“This study could potentially, down the line, affect how veterans will be treated when they come back from combat,” Vanderheyden said.