Sleep Disorders in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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A growing body of evidence supports a bidirectional relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep disturbances. Fragmented sleep induced by sleep-related breathing disorders, insomnia, and nightmares impacts recovery and treatment outcomes and worsens PTSD symptoms. Despite recent attention, management of these disorders has been unrewarding in the setting of PTSD. This review summarizes the evidence for empirically supported treatments of these sleep ailments, including psychotherapeutic and pharmacologic interventions, as it relates to PTSD. Recent advances in positive airway pressure technology have made treatment of OSA more acceptable; however, adherence to CPAP therapy presents a substantial challenge. Concomitant insomnia, which engenders psychiatric and medical conditions, including depression, suicide, and alcohol and substance abuse, can be managed with cognitive behavioral therapy. Hypnotic agents are considered an alternative therapy, but concerns about adverse events and lack of high-level evidence supporting their efficacy in PTSD treatment have limited their use to resistant cases or as adjuncts to behavioral therapy when the response is less than desirable. Intrusion of nightmares can complicate PTSD treatment and exert serious strain on social, occupational, and marital relations. Imagery rehearsal therapy has shown significant reduction in nightmare intensity and frequency. The success of noradrenergic blocking agents has not been consistent among studies, with one-half reporting treatment failure. An integrated stepped care approach that includes components of both behavioral and pharmacologic interventions customized to patients’ sleep-maladaptive behaviors may offer a solution to delivering accessible, effective, and efficient services for individuals with PTSD.

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