Bushfire sleep trauma trial seeks participants

A cognitive-behavioural clinical trial that is developing a treatment for sleep disturbances in bushfire survivors is now seeking participants.

The trial, supported by Natural Hazards Research Australia and Federation University Australia, comprises an online, self-paced, sleep-specific intervention called Sleep Best-i. It is aimed at anyone experiencing sleep disturbances – such as insomnia, nightmares or trauma symptoms – as a result of living through bushfire. This includes community members or emergency responders.

The study is part of the Centre’s Online cognitive-behavioural intervention for treatment of insomnia and nightmares in bushfire survivors project, conducted by clinical psychologist Fadia Isaac, Prof Gerard Kennedy and other researchers at Federation University, with funding through the Centre’s Postgraduate Research Scholarship program.

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Early signs are promising but more participants are required says Fadia, who recently won Collaborative Research Australia’s Early Career Researcher Competition for this innovative study.

“The hope is that Sleep Best-i will give individuals increasing self-governance when it comes to their mental health and sleep patterns,” said Fadia.“Many people who are suffering post-bushfire trauma have to overcome significant barriers to receiving treatment, especially those who live remotely or feel stigma when seeking face-to-face treatment. This self-paced intervention is done at home, giving people self-governance and greater privacy when seeking help for their sleep disturbances.

”Participants will be asked about their experience with bushfires and asked to rate their severity of sleep and trauma symptoms. Once eligibility for the trial is established, participants complete short assessments and provide feedback through online modules. The trial is conducted remotely within the participants’ home at their own pace using sleep-specific technology that is simple to use, such as Fitbits to track sleep.

“Taking part is easy and does not involve being hooked up to sleep devices,” Fadia explained.

“Participants can commence at any time. Each week participants watch a module focused on a different aspect of sleep disturbance, for example nightmares, and receive tips for the week to help tackle that particular sleep disturbance. For nightmares this could be rewriting the nightmare in a benign way, such as changing the ending to something pleasant and rehearsing the new dream during waking hours.

“This is a proven technique – the brain is more likely to remember that benign dream than the nightmare, so this is how they can shift that nightmare from being such a bad experience.

”Recruitment is open until the end of 2023, or until participant slots are filled. The experience of a bushfire does not need to be recent; it could be several years or even decades ago.

By taking part in this trial, participants will improve their knowledge of sleep difficulties and how they develop after a bushfire, as well as reduce their mental health risks.

The trial takes either four or eight weeks to complete, depending if the participant is assigned to the intervention or control group based on their initial assessment.

Based on the success of the trial, the intervention will be implemented more widely in Phase 2 of the project, ensuring that others will benefit from this online treatment. The intervention could also be developed as an evidence-based, free resource, both nationally and internationally.

Participants who complete the trial and provide data will receive a $100 e-Coles voucher.

IMAGE CREDIT: Natural Hazards Research Australia

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