Human impulsive aggression: a sleep research perspective

J Psychiatr Res. 2003 Jul-Aug;37(4):313-24. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3956(03)00041-4.


Impulsive aggression is commonly associated with personality disorders, in particular antisocial and borderline personality disorders as well as with conduct disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. The relationship between impulsive aggression and testosterone is well established in many studies. One of the aims of this study was to characterize the relationship between earlier-mentioned different categorical psychiatric diagnosis describing human impulsive aggression and sleep using polysomnography and spectral power analysis. Another aim was to study the relationship between serum testosterone and sleep in persons with severe aggressive behaviour. Subjects for the study were 16 males charged with highly violent offences and ordered for a pretrial forensic psychiatric examination. The antisocials with borderline personality disorder comorbidity had significantly more awakenings and lower sleep efficiency compared with the subjects with only antisocial personality disorder. The subjects with severe conduct disorder in childhood anamnesis had higher amount of S4 sleep and higher relative theta and delta power in this sleep stage compared with males with only mild or moderate conduct disorder. The same kind of sleep architecture was associated with intermittent explosive disorder. In subgroups with higher serum testosterone levels also the amount of S4 sleep and the relative theta and delta power in this sleep stage were increased. The study gives further support to the growing evidence of brain dysfunction predisposing to severe aggressive behaviour and strengthens the view that there are different subpopulations of individuals with antisocial personality varying in impulsiveness. The differences in impulsiveness are reflected in sleep architecture as well.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / blood
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / blood
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Stages
  • Sleep*
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Testosterone