Are you having trouble sleeping? After experiencing trauma, it is very common for your body to stay on high alert, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. In fact, sleep problems are the most commonly reported symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Common symptoms of sleep difficulties for individuals with PTSD include flashbacks, bad dreams or nightmares, the need to stay hyper alert, worry, anxiety, drug or alcohol use, or other medical concerns that prevent a good night’s sleep.
Sleep needs will vary throughout one’s lifetime. On average, adults require 7-9 hours of sleep each night to ensure optimal physical and mental functioning. Sleep is essential for the body to repair itself, therefore, without proper sleep, healing is compromised. According to Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor and Sleep Expert, lack of sleep accelerates the aging process, lowers our immune system, and prevents the brain from making new memories. Sleep also impacts our memory, mood and reaction times, which can make daily living challenging. Sleep deprivation exacerbate PTSD symptoms, making it difficult to heal. Dr. Dan Gartenberg discusses how deep sleep is imperative to the rejuvenation of both our physical and mental health. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can make us more susceptible to pain, harder to relate to others, more difficult to learn new tasks, and make it harder for memories to move into our long term memory.
Good sleep hygiene is essential for optimal health. Although sleep may be difficult for individuals with PTSD, there are ways to begin to improve your sleep. Various strategies can be used to help you get a better night’s sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques prior to going to sleep will help your body enter into a relaxed state and make it easier to fall asleep. Changing the way you think about sleep can also be helpful. If you find yourself worrying about whether you will fall asleep or have a sense of dread around bedtime, guided imagery or mindful breathing can help take your mind off these worries. There are also a number of other techniques you can do to improve your sleep which can include:
- Create a comfortable sleep environment: Making sure you feel safe and comfortable in the bedroom is important. Having a comfortable mattress, pillows and bedding can help. Ensuring that your room is dark enough and at the right temperature.
- Physical activity: exercise 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week, can help improve the quality of your sleep. However, ensuring that exercise occurs at least 2 hours before sleep, as it could impact your ability to fall asleep.
- Set up a bedtime routine: This will cue your body that it is time to release natural sleep hormones.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time: will help you set or regain a natural sleep rhythm. It is important to practice this strategy even on the weekends.
- Sleep only when sleepy: rather than lay awake in bed, get up and return to the bedroom when you are tired enough to fall asleep.
- The bedroom is only for sleep: Watching TV or playing on digital devices can keep our mind active and make it hard to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine is a stimulant, which will interfere with your ability to sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but will impact your quality of sleep. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol at least 4 hours before sleep.
Start in small steps, choose one or two strategies to work on at a time, and track your progress in a sleep diary.
Published on December 10, 2019
Moderator: Derek Sienko, M.A. in Military Psychology (candidate), BSW., R.R.P., C.V.R.P