Treatment of sleep disturbances in refugees suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder

20 Citations (Scopus)


Sleep disturbances are often referred to as the hallmark of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is prevalent in refugees, studies on sleep disturbances in trauma-affected refugees are scarce. This article presents the results of two studies: a systematic review of the literature on treatment of sleep disturbances in adult trauma-affected refugees and a study of the role of sleep disturbances in the PTSD symptom structure. Study 1, the literature review, identified five studies on treatment of sleep disturbances: four studies were on pharmacological treatment and one study on music therapy. The identified studies had small sample sizes and few carried out statistical analysis. It was not possible from the available literature to recommend any specific treatment of sleep disturbances. In Study 2, a clinical sample of 752 refugees, fulfilling criteria for PTSD and enrolled in treatment at the Competence Centre for Transcultural Psychiatry, Denmark, completed the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) before and after treatment. To determine item discrimination, the data was tested with a Rasch model. 99.1% reported trouble sleeping and 98.7% reported recurrent nightmares. The Rasch analysis displayed fit residuals of 0.05 for trouble sleeping and -1.16 for nightmares, indicating sufficient discrimination. Trouble sleeping and nightmares proved important parts of the HTQ response structure. This study indicates that sleep disturbances are a prominent part of the PTSD symptom structure in refugees but that research on treatment of sleep disturbances is limited. Further research on sleep disturbances in trauma-affected refugees is therefore needed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Issue number5-6
Pages (from-to)806-823
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2017


  • Journal Article


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