Sleep and PTSD: No Firm Ties Found

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The Minneapolis Star Tribune (12/17, Brunswick, 319K) reports that although people with PTSD see a connection between that condition and their sleeplessness, “a study conducted by the Minneapolis VA hospital says the evidence is not so clear.

While preliminary, the study, conducted by Minneapolis VA psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Westermeyer and his colleagues, shows that more work needs to be done to reach a definitive conclusion. Westermeyer published his findings in the September issue of ‘Psychiatry’ under the title, ‘Quality of Sleep in Patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.'”
– From the VA

By Mark Brunswick, Star Tribune

Time after time you hear stories of people with PTSD complaining of sleepness nights. It fits the classic conception of the tortured sufferer, awakened in a sweat from visions of some calamity or tragedy.

There’s no dispute that people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) feel that there is a connection between the illness and their inability to get to sleep. But a study conducted by the Minneapolis VA hospital says the evidence is not so clear. While preliminary, the study, conducted by Minneapolis VA psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Westermeyer and his colleagues, shows that more work needs to be done to reach a definitive conclusion.

Westermeyer published his findings in the September issue of “Psychiatry” under the title, “Quality of Sleep in Patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” It studied 26 veterans to determine what kind of sleep problems may be associated with patients with lifetime PTSD, which could include repetitive awakenings, nightmares, difficulty in obtaining enough sleep or daytime sleepiness. There are many common beliefs about what causes a connection between PTSD and sleep problems, including hypervigilance, distressing thoughts, drugs or alcohol or chronic pain.

The study looked at 23 male and three female volunteers. Seventeen of the 26 had been in combat. Researchers used the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which measures daytime sleepiness. Patients were also asked to wear a device known as an actigraph, which measures and records movement, for a two-week period.

“Our findings in this study stand at an intersection between two divergent viewpoints regarding sleep problems in PTSD,” the report concluded. “On one hand, clinicians serving PTSD patients have reported high rates of sleep disturbance and daytime sleepiness. On the other hand, clinical investigators using objective measures have failed to replicate these findings of sleep disturbance.”

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