The relationship between sleep disturbances and PTSD, major depression, and generalized anxiety

by Duffy, Stacy, Psy.D., ALLIANT INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, 2012, 98 pages; 3544625


Sleep is essential to healthy functioning, and sleep disturbance can impact physical and psychological health. Research suggests there are not only relationships between sleep disturbance and mental illness, but that different disorders may be more strongly associated with particular types of sleep disturbances. This study investigated the differences between the types of sleep disturbances experienced within major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Participants consisted of 209 individuals collected through an online convenience sample. Participants completed the following measures: PHQ-9 (for major depressive symptoms), GAD-7 (for generalized anxiety symptoms), PCL-C (for PTSD symptoms), and items from the Iowa Sleep Disturbance Inventory (for sleep disturbance symptoms). Data analysis included 132 chi-square tests to find relationships between particular types of sleep disturbance and these three disorders.

The analyses revealed several significant relationships. First, the presence of any of the three disorders significantly increased the likelihood of most sleep disturbance variables being endorsed. Second, different sleep disturbance variables showed stronger correlations with different mental health diagnoses. Of note, major depression was highly associated with irregular wake time as well as other sleep timing variables. Major depression was also found to have strong correlations with uncomfortable feelings in the legs. Generalized anxiety was highly associated with the experience of mind racing prior to sleep. PTSD was highly correlated with nightmares, bad dreams, excessive daytime sleepiness, and uncomfortable feelings in the legs.

While some associations between these diagnoses and sleep disturbance have been found before, this study is unique in the differences found between the diagnoses. The implications of this research are far-reaching for clinical practice. These findings could not only help in higher detection of sleep disturbances in depressed and anxious patients, but could also assist clinicians in distinguishing between major depression, generalized anxiety, and PTSD based primarily on the type of sleep variables being endorsed. This can, in turn, assist clinicians in targeting the specific sleep variables associated with each disorder in order to improve existing treatments for major depression, generalized anxiety, and PTSD.

AdviserAlan Swope
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsMental health; Counseling psychology; Psychology; Clinical psychology
Publication Number3544625

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