By Dr. Peter Colvonen
Sleep disorders contribute to major depression, substance abuse, impaired daytime functioning, negative health consequences, and suicide risk. Individuals with PTSD are more likely to have sleep disorders such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and nightmares. It is known that untreated sleep disorders can interfere with PTSD treatment, so addressing sleep disorders in Veterans with PTSD is crucial to improving their medical and mental health and quality of life.
CESAMH investigator, Dr. Colvonen, and colleagues reviewed recent advancements in treating sleep disorders in people with PTSD, and noted several important findings. They reported that PTSD treatments decrease PTSD symptoms and the frequency of nightmares, but these treatments do not improve other sleep problems like OSA or insomnia. Dr. Colvonen and his colleagues highlighted that evidence-based sleep interventions, such as CPAP for OSA and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) exist. They also reported that there is not strong evidence to support the effectiveness of certain medications to treat some sleep disturbances in patients with PTSD, and they cautioned about potential medication side effects. In contrast, there is substantial evidence that the medication prazosin decreases nightmares, increases sleep quality, and may decrease nighttime arousals. CESAMH researchers recommend that sleep disorders be thoroughly assessed so that the most effective intervention can be provided to Veterans with PTSD, leading to better patient-centered care and outcomes.