Insights from sleep diaries and wearable sensors: The relationship between trauma-exposure and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with sleep and physiological arousal

3rd February 2020 : 12:45 - 14:00

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Quantitative Methods Hub

Speaker: Elizabeth Woodward, University College London

Location: Department of Education, Seminar Room B

Convener: Lars-Erik Malmberg

‘The Relationship between Trauma-exposure and PTSD, with Sleep Disturbance and Physiological Arousal: Insights from sleep diaries and wearable sensors’

Sleep disturbances (SD) have been observed after traumatic events, in particular in people who develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While subjective SD in PTSD are well evidenced, objective evidence is mixed.

Aim This study aimed to investigate the impact of trauma exposure and PTSD on objective and subjectively measured sleep disturbances, and to consider the role of physiological arousal in sleep in PTSD.

Method 115 participants (PTSD, trauma-exposed controls, non-exposed) were monitored at home for 7 days using questionnaires and daily subjective (sleep diary) and objective (actigraphy) sleep measures. Biometric markers of hyperarousal (nocturnal heart-rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) and day-time salivary cortisol) were assessed during the first day and night.

Results Participants with PTSD reported more severe subjective and objective sleep disturbances. Control groups did not differ on any sleep measures, suggesting trauma exposure alone had not impacted sleep. Participants with PTSD had lower afternoon cortisol but did not differ in HR or HRV. Higher nocturnal HR was associated with worse sleep quality in PTSD.

Conclusions Subjective and objective sleep problems are more severe in PTSD than both trauma-exposed and non-exposed controls. Elevated nocturnal physiological arousal may be related to sleep in PTSD.