Is A Person’s Sleep Process Changed by Using EMDR Therapy for Trauma?

woman asleep

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach most often used to help those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) alleviate the distress associated with memories, panic, anxiety, and other emotional problems associated with past trauma. During the therapy session, a therapist guides their client into eye movement patterns or other forms of stimulation while a person recalls a traumatic event, to help a person obtain a different association with it. Clients are asked to replace negative beliefs surrounding the event with positive beliefs, and EMDR therapy helps them to do this. Examples of this are as follows:

  • Negative belief: “I am helpless”
  • Positive belief: “I am in control”
  • Negative belief: “I am powerless”
  • Positive belief: “I am strong”

After this, a therapist may ask the client to recall traumatic memories to see if there is any residual tension left in the body. If so, these physical sensations are targeted so the person can reprocess information to create a new association with that as well. The goal of EMDR therapy is for the person to fully accept the truth of their positive self-statement. This may further lead the person to take on other actions in their lives to help support their positive beliefs. It’s widely known that sleep can affect PTSD just as much as the symptoms of PTSD can affect sleep – how does EMDR therapy factor into sleep?

As a person begins to process their new beliefs more deeply, they may find that some of their symptoms of PTSD begin to ameliorate. Sleep difficulty is common for those with PTSD due to nightmares and, especially if the traumatic event happened at night – insomnia. EMDR therapy can be considered a non-medicated approach to sleep treatment. However, there are a number of things you can do to help improve your sleep:

  • Establish a set routine for when to wake up and when to go to bed
  • Go to bed whenever you are ready to sleep; don’t force yourself to stay awake
  • Create a very peaceful environment – find what works for you. This could include having a nightlight, turning on the fan, listening to calming music, etc.
  • Limit your naps during the day so that you are more tired at night
  • Exercise early on in the day to boost your body’s wake and sleep cycles
  • Try to manage your worries by seeing a therapist, using EMDR therapy, practice meditation, etc.

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