VA Office of Research and Development Studying veterans sleep problems

VA Office of Research and Development Studying veterans sleep problems

The Career Development Program of VA’s Office of Research and Development provides mentoring for junior researchers so they can learn from experienced VA researchers. Graduates of the program have become national and international leaders in their fields.

We interviewed Career Development awardee Dr. Miranda Lim of the VA Portland Health Care System in Oregon about her research on sleep problems affecting Veterans.

What do you study?

I am a neurologist who specializes in treating sleep disorders. My research program, Sleep & Health Applied Research Program (SHARP), aims to understand sleep and the impact that poor sleep can have on the brain and body.

I study how sleep is affected by common conditions among Veterans, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease

How did you first get interested in this topic

I decided to become a neurologist because I have always been fascinated by the brain, brain health, aging and human behavior. Sleep is one of biology’s greatest mysteries. We still don’t know why we need to sleep. Understanding how sleep needs might change over the lifespan and in certain medical conditions is the crux to understanding healthy development and aging

What attracted you to VA?

I have had the privilege of serving our nation’s Veterans at multiple VA hospitals around the country. This started with my medical training over 20 years ago. I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to those who so generously gave for us in defense of our country. I cherish the connections that I’ve made over the years with my patients.

VA has built an incredible, unparalleled nationwide infrastructure that cannot be matched by any other health system in the U.S. In the clinical sleep world, we are on the cutting edge of telehealth and the latest equipment for sleep apnea.

In the sleep research world, we have discovered unique sleep disorders tied to TBI and PTSD, allowing us to forge new understanding of how the brain works and new treatments for sleep problems.

Why is your work important to Veterans?

My research particularly benefits Veterans because they are disproportionately affected by TBI and PTSD – both of which can cause sleep problems. For example, my team recently discovered that Veterans who are diagnosed with a TBI or PTSD are at greater risk for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which causes violent movement during the REM stage of sleep.

RBD has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. However, we still don’t know whether Veterans with RBD are also at higher risk of Parkinson’s disease – and if so, how might TBI/PTSD trigger this neurodegeneration? These are incredibly important questions that need to be answered for the sake of understanding what our Veterans are going through.

Pictured above, Dr. Lim and team members view an image from their sleep research lab in this pre-pandemic photo. (Photo by Michael Moody)

What do you do outside of work?  

I live and breathe sleep research and I love working with my incredible research team. It’s sometimes very hard for me to step away. But, I do have a life outside of research.

A little-known fact about my distant past: I played division I women’s water polo. It was at the University of Southern California from 1994 to 1998. Currently, I love spending time with my family, including my incredibly supportive husband and our three young children.

My older two children have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. It has been an amazing journey that I am grateful to share with them. I’ve learned to understand the world through their eyes – they teach me so much every day.

We love to hike and camp and learn all about native plants of the Pacific Northwest. Our favorite place to camp is in the Olympic National Forest.

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