Sleep disturbance as the hallmark of posttraumatic stress disorder

Am J Psychiatry. 1989 Jun;146(6):697-707. doi: 10.1176/ajp.146.6.697.


The reexperiencing of a traumatic event in the form of repetitive dreams, memories, or flashbacks is one of the cardinal manifestations of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The dream disturbance associated with PTSD may be relatively specific for this disorder, and dysfunctional REM sleep mechanisms may be involved in the pathogenesis of the posttraumatic anxiety dream. Furthermore, the results of neurophysiological studies in animals suggest that CNS processes generating REM sleep may participate in the control of the classical startle response, which may be akin to the startle behavior commonly described in PTSD patients. Speculating that PTSD may be fundamentally a disorder of REM sleep mechanisms, the authors suggest several strategies for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Dreams / physiology
  • Humans
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*