The Contribution of Sleep to the Development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Primary author: William Vanderheyden

Primary college/unit: Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
Campus: Spokane


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arises as the result of experiencing a physical and/or psychological trauma. Human populations with PTSD show features of sleep disturbance that include insomnia, nightmares, and difficulty staying asleep through the night. Sleep disturbances are considered a hallmark feature of PTSD, yet little is known about the contribution of sleep to the pathogenesis of the disorder.

Using a rodent model of PTSD called “Single Prolonged Stress” we have begun examining if 1) sleep deprivation prior to trauma exposure has any impact on the development of PTSD and 2) if increasing sleep quantity via optogenetics in trauma exposed animals can improve the outcomes associated with trauma exposure.

Preliminary data show that pre-trauma-exposure sleep deprivation has no impact on subsequent PTSD-like cognitive impairments. However, post-trauma-exposure sleep improvements are able to restore cognitive function back to non-trauma exposed levels.

These data identify sleep as a potential therapeutic for trauma exposed populations.