Objective: To present a critical review of the literature and research on sleep difficulties in adults with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), more specifically the existing treatment options, and to formulate recommendations regarding future treatment approaches and research related to sleep and PTSD.
Data sources: The following databases were consulted: PsycInfo (1872-2006) and MEDLINE (1966-2006). The search was conducted using the following key terms: PTSD and sleep, PTSD and nightmares, PTSD and dreams, PTSD and insomnia, PTSD and periodic limb movement disorder, and PTSD and sleep disordered breathing. Only studies examining sleep disturbance among adults with PTSD were included, and only articles written in English were consulted.
Study selection: Studies and reviews related to the prevalence, causes, and treatments of sleep disturbance among adults with PTSD, as well as those examining the relationship between sleep and PTSD, were selected.
Conclusions: Promising treatment options are available for treating sleep difficulties among adults with PTSD. In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy including a component for nightmares (imagery rehearsal therapy) and insomnia has been found to significantly improve sleep disturbance among these individuals. It is proposed that with the inclusion of other components, such as a screening for other sleep disorders, relaxation exercises, positive self-talk, imagery rehearsal related to recurring images before bed, and a daytime nap, sleep-related symptoms may improve to a greater degree, which may then lead to a significant decrease in other PTSD symptoms and overall PTSD severity. The inclusion of sleep medicine specialists should also be considered for sleep medicine treatment of individuals with PTSD. Collaboration between mental health professionals and sleep medicine specialists is therefore recommended for treatment of sleep-related difficulties among individuals with PTSD.