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Keywords:

  • polysomnography;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • quantitative electroencephalography;
  • rapid eye movement sleep;
  • sex differences;
  • slow wave sleep

Summary

A growing literature shows prominent sex effects for risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and associated medical comorbid burden. Previous research indicates that post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with reduced slow wave sleep, which may have implications for overall health, and abnormalities in rapid eye movement sleep, which have been implicated in specific post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, but most research has been conducted in male subjects. We therefore sought to compare objective measures of sleep in male and female post-traumatic stress disorder subjects with age- and sex-matched control subjects. We used a cross-sectional, 2 × 2 design (post-traumatic stress disorder/control × female/male) involving83 medically healthy, non-medicated adults aged 19–39 years in the inpatient sleep laboratory. Visual electroencephalographic analysis demonstrated that post-traumatic stress disorder was associated with lower slow wave sleep duration (F(3,82) = 7.63, = 0.007) and slow wave sleep percentage (F(3,82) = 6.11, = 0.016). There was also a group × sex interaction effect for rapid eye movement sleep duration (F(3,82) = 4.08, = 0.047) and rapid eye movement sleep percentage (F(3,82) = 4.30, = 0.041), explained by greater rapid eye movement sleep in post-traumatic stress disorder females compared to control females, a difference not seen in male subjects. Quantitative electroencephalography analysis demonstrated that post-traumatic stress disorder was associated with lower energy in the delta spectrum (F(3,82) = 6.79, = 0.011) in non-rapid eye movement sleep. Slow wave sleep and delta findings were more pronounced in males. Removal of post-traumatic stress disorder subjects with comorbid major depressive disorder, who had greater post-traumatic stress disorder severity, strengthened delta effects but reduced rapid eye movement effects to non-significance. These findings support previous evidence that post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with impairment in the homeostatic function of sleep, especially in men with the disorder. These findings suggest that group × sex interaction effects on rapid eye movement may occur with more severe post-traumatic stress disorder or with post-traumatic stress disorder comorbid with major depressive disorder.