Australian Study Seeks to Resolve Traumatic Sleep Disorders in Wildfire Survivors 

A clinical trial in Australia is developing a treatment for sleep disturbances caused by wildfires. The study, which is supported by Natural Hazards Research Australia, a research organization, and Federation University Australia, is now seeking participants in Australia, the United States and Canada.

The trial is aimed at people who have disturbed sleep, including nightmares, insomnia or symptoms of trauma after surviving a wildfire.

Participants will be asked about their experiences with wildfires and asked to rate the severity of their sleep and trauma symptoms.

Those who take part complete short assessments and provide feedback through online activities. The testing is at home using sleep-specific technology and apps that track sleep.

Clinical psychologist Fadia Isaac is conducting the trial with other researchers at Federation University Australia, with funding from Natural Hazards Research Australia’s Postgraduate Research Scholarship program.

She tells VOA that people confronted by trauma experience a so-called “fight or flight” response, when the brain reacts to shock.

“If we are not getting sleep because of the fight or flight response then there is no room for these emotions to get processed during that time and therefore the trauma can be ongoing, sleep can also continue to be a problem for those people and unfortunately it becomes a vicious cycle for many people,” she said.

This is an international study that is seeking participants in Australia, the United States and Canada.

Their experiences of a wildfire do not need to be recent; the event could be several years or even decades ago.

Isaac says the early signs from the clinical trial are encouraging.

“If they are waking up too early or they cannot initiate sleep, or they are having regular nightmares, these modules are dedicated to actually psycho-educate the public about sleep, insomnia, nightmares and trauma symptoms. It is very easy to use and we have had some great feedback from our current participants,” she said.

Prolific vegetation growth has led to warnings that Australia could face serious wildfires later this year.

A royal commission inquiry into Australia’s Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 — which destroyed vast parts of the country — along with other disasters, said in October 2020 that climate change had exacerbated the extreme conditions which caused the fires.

2023 has already been a savage year for wildfires. The fires in Hawaii are the deadliest in the United States in more than 100-years.

Canadian wildfire officials said earlier this month that the 2023 wildfire season is the worst ever recorded, with millions of hectares of land already scorched.

Fires have also caused widespread devastation in Spain and Portugal.

And recent fires on the Greek island of Rhodes forced the evacuation of thousands of people as the flames reached resorts on the island’s south-eastern coast.

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