Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) behavioural symptoms and medically unexplainable somatic symptoms are reported to occur following the stressful experience of military combatants in war zones.
To determine the contribution of disordered EEG sleep physiology in those military combatants who have unexplainable physical symptoms and PTSD behavioural difficulties following war-zone exposure.
This case-controlled study compared 59 veterans with chronic sleep disturbance with 39 veterans with DSM-IV and clinician-administered PTSD Scale diagnosed PTSD who were unresponsive to pharmacological and psychological treatments. All had standardised EEG polysomnography, computerised sleep EEG cyclical alternating pattern (CAP) as a measure of sleep stability, self-ratings of combat exposure, paranoid cognition and hostility subscales of Symptom Checklist-90, Beck Depression Inventory and the Wahler Physical Symptom Inventory. Statistical group comparisons employed linear models, logistic regression and chi-square automatic interaction detection (CHAID)-like decision trees.
Veterans with PTSD were more likely than those without PTSD to show disturbances in non-rapid eye movement (REM) and REM sleep including delayed sleep onset, less efficient EEG sleep, less stage 4 (deep) non-REM sleep, reduced REM and delayed onset to REM. There were no group differences in the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoeas/hypopnoeas and periodic leg movements, but sleep-disturbed, non-PTSD military had more EEG CAP sleep instability. Rank order determinants for the diagnosis of PTSD comprise paranoid thinking, onset to REM sleep, combat history and somatic symptoms. Decision-tree analysis showed that a specific military event (combat), delayed onset to REM sleep, paranoid thinking and medically unexplainable somatic pain and fatigue characterise chronic PTSD. More PTSD veterans reported domestic and social misbehaviour.
Military combat, disturbed REM/non-REM EEG sleep, paranoid ideation and medically unexplained chronic musculoskeletal pain and fatigue are key factors in determining PTSD disability following war-zone exposure.