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. 1993 Dec 1;34(11):791-7.
doi: 10.1016/0006-3223(93)90068-o.

Sleep After Spousal Bereavement: A Study of Recovery From Stress


Sleep After Spousal Bereavement: A Study of Recovery From Stress

C F Reynolds 3rd et al. Biol Psychiatry. .


Aim: In this study, we compared repeated measures of electroencephalographic (EEG) sleep and subjective sleep quality in nondepressed, spousally bereaved elders and a healthy control group, in order to search for possible psychobiological correlates of bereavement not confounded by concurrent major depression.

Method: Laboratory-based EEG sleep studies and measures of subjective sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index [PSQI]) were repeated at 3, 6, 11, 18, and 23 months after spousal bereavement in a study group of 27 elderly volunteers. Data were compared with similar measures from a control group of 27 nonbereaved subjects recorded on three occasions 1 year apart. Repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), using age as a covariate, examined effects due to time on selected variables in the bereaved group, as well as effects due to group, time, and group-by-time interactions in the experimental and control subjects.

Results: Bereaved and control groups showed consistent differences over time in the phasic measures of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (higher in bereaved subjects during the first and third REM sleep periods), but were similar on all other EEG sleep measures over the 2 years of observation. The bereaved showed a small decline in the percentage of slow-wave sleep over 2 years, but measures of sleep efficiency, REM latency, and delta sleep ratio were stable and did not differ from values seen in control subjects. Bereaved and control subjects were also similar on subjective sleep quality.

Conclusion: During successful adaptation to the loss of a spouse, and in the absence of major depression, spousal bereavement is associated with elevation in the phasic measures of REM sleep but does not appear to be associated with other physiologic sleep changes typical of major depression when studied at 3 to 23 months after the event. Although this observation does not preclude the possibility of significant sleep disturbance nearer the time of the event, it suggests that preservation of normal sleep following a major negative life event may be an important correlate of the resilience seen in successful aging. The elevation in REM density may provide a psychobiological correlate of bereavement not confounded by concurrent major depression.

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