Sleep problems in active duty military personnel seeking treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: presence, change, and impact on outcomes

Sleep. 2020 Oct 13;43(10):zsaa065. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa065.


Study objectives: To examine sleep disorder symptom reports at baseline and posttreatment in a sample of active duty U.S. Army Soldiers receiving treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Explore sleep-related predictors of outcomes.

Methods: Sleep was evaluated in 128 participants in a parent randomized clinical trial comparing Spaced formats of Prolonged Exposure (PE) or Present Centered Therapy and a Massed format of PE. In the current study, Spaced formats were combined and evaluated separately from Massed.

Results: At baseline, the average sleep duration was < 5 h per night on weekdays/workdays and < 6 h per night on weekends/off days. The majority of participants reported clinically significant insomnia, clinically significant nightmares, and probable sleep apnea and approximately half reported excessive daytime sleepiness at baseline. Insomnia and nightmares improved significantly from baseline to posttreatment in all groups, but many patients reported clinically significant insomnia (>70%) and nightmares (>38%) posttreatment. Excessive daytime sleepiness significantly improved only in the Massed group, but 40% continued to report clinically significant levels at posttreatment. Short sleep (Spaced only), clinically significant insomnia and nightmares, excessive daytime sleepiness, and probable sleep apnea (Massed only) at baseline predicted higher PTSD symptoms across treatment course. Short weekends/off days sleep predicted lower PTSD symptom improvement in the Spaced treatments.

Conclusions: Various sleep disorder symptoms were high at baseline, were largely unchanged with PTSD treatment, and were related to worse PTSD treatment outcomes. Studies are needed with objective sleep assessments and targeted sleep disorders treatments in PTSD patients.

Clinical trial registration: NCT01049516.

Keywords: PTSD; insomnia; military; nightmares; sleep disorders.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Dreams
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / complications
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / therapy
  • Sleep Wake Disorders* / complications
  • Sleep Wake Disorders* / therapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / therapy

Associated data