Sleep disturbances are a hallmark feature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and associated with poor clinical outcomes. Few studies have examined sleep quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG), a technique able to detect subtle differences that polysomnography does not capture. We hypothesized that greater high-frequency qEEG would reflect 'hyperarousal' in combat veterans with PTSD (n = 16) compared to veterans without PTSD (n = 13). EEG power in traditional EEG frequency bands was computed for artifact-free sleep epochs across an entire night. Correlations were performed between qEEG and ratings of PTSD symptoms and combat exposure. The groups did not differ significantly in whole-night qEEG measures for either rapid eye movement (REM) or non-REM (NREM) sleep. Non-significant medium effect sizes suggest less REM beta (opposite to our hypothesis), less REM and NREM sigma and more NREM gamma in combat veterans with PTSD. Positive correlations were found between combat exposure and NREM beta (PTSD group only), and REM and NREM sigma (non-PTSD group only). Results did not support global hyperarousal in PTSD as indexed by increased beta qEEG activity. The correlation of sigma activity with combat exposure in those without PTSD and the non-significant trend towards less sigma activity during both REM and NREM sleep in combat veterans with PTSD suggests that differential information processing during sleep may characterize combat-exposed military veterans with and without PTSD.
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