Sleep Disturbances Among Combat Military Veterans: A Comparative Study Using Subjective and Objective Sleep Assessments

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The sleep characteristics of 37 military veterans and active-duty service members (17 with PTSD and 20 without PTSD) of recent wars were analyzed to determine if combat deployment, with its associated sleep restriction, may be an alternative explanation for the sleep complaints found among combat veterans with PTSD (as determined by PTSD Checklist Military Version scores). Over a 1-week period, sleep data were collected using sleep actigraphy and self-report. Across the entire sample, subjective and objective assessment methods of sleep were strongly correlated, although there were some notable within-group differences. Specifically, although sleep duration between groups did not differ based on actigraphy, veterans without PTSD reported sleeping 1 h and 11 min (p = .002) longer than did veterans with PTSD. In an effort to determine why individuals without PTSD might be overreporting sleep, we found that symptoms of emotional arousal (anger, anxiety, and nightmares) were significantly correlated with self-reported sleep duration, suggesting a pattern of higher autonomic arousal found in veterans with PTSD. Thus, although sleeping for 6 h, the higher levels of emotional arousal reported by veterans with PTSD may mean that they do not perceive their sleep as restful. Further research is necessary to determine if the sleep architecture of veterans with PTSD is actually different from that of combat veterans without PTSD and if such differences are actually amenable to standard behavioral treatments for this disorder.

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