Disturbed sleep is a common complaint among patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, laboratory studies of sleep in PTSD have provided inconsistent evidence of objective sleep disturbances. A major shortcoming of most previous studies is the fact that they were performed retrospectively in patients with chronic PTSD, often complicated by comorbid psychiatric disorders and drug abuse. Thus, little is known about the development of sleep disturbances in recently traumatized subjects. In this study, 102 motor vehicle collision (MVC) survivors were followed from the time of collision throughout 1 year. Nineteen subjects hospitalized for elective surgery served as a comparison group. Subjective quality of sleep was assessed using the mini-Sleep Questionnaire and the Sleep Habit Questionnaire. In addition, a 48-h actigraphic recording was obtained 1 week, 3 and 12 months after the collision. At 12 months, a structured clinical interview (SCID) was administered to reach a formal diagnosis of PTSD. Twenty-six of the MVC survivors, but none of the comparison subjects, met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. While MVC survivors with PTSD reported markedly poorer sleep as reflected by significantly higher scores on the mini-Sleep Questionnaire, there were no significant differences between the three groups on the actigraphic measures that were largely normal. These results, which were obtained in subjects with no evidence of active psychiatric symptoms at the time of trauma and free of psychotropic or hypnotic medications, further support previous polysomnographic (PSG) studies suggesting that altered sleep perception, rather than sleep disturbance per se, may be the key problem in PTSD.
- Actigraphic monitoring
- Sleep disturbance