Sleep in a community sample of elderly war veterans with and without posttraumatic stress disorder

Brian E. Engdahl, Raina E. Eberly, Thomas D. Hurwitz, Mark W. Mahowald, Julee Blake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Background: Although sleep disturbances are commonly reported by individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), objective findings have been inconsistent, due in part to small sample sizes, comorbid psychiatric disorders, variations in the recentness of trauma exposure, and the use of PTSD subjects involved in psychiatric treatment. Methods: A community sample of elderly males (n = 59) exposed to war trauma 28-50 years ago and free from sleep-affecting medications and disorders other than PTSD completed 3 nights of polysomnography. Of these participants, 30 met criteria for current PTSD; three were receiving supportive outpatient psychotherapy. Results: Two statistically significant differences were observed: Those with PTSD had a higher percentage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and fewer arousals from non-REM sleep. The perceptions of sleep quality among the participants with PTSD were lower than the perceptions of non-PTSD participants. Although participants with untreated obstructive sleep apnea and sleep movement disorders were not included in the sample, many cases were detected on initial screening. Treatment resulted in improved sleep and increased feelings of well being. Conclusions: Alterations in REM and arousals characterized PTSD in this sample. When comorbid sleep disorders were ruled out, sleep was clinically similar across the groups. Trauma-related sleep disturbances that subjects reported as arising early in the course of the disorder appear to have declined over time. Copyright (C) 2000 Society of Biological Psychiatry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-525
Number of pages6
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 23 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Hennepin Faculty Associates.


  • Combat veterans
  • Polysomnography
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Prisoners of war
  • Sleep


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