What is the Relationship Between Trauma and Sleep?


sad woman insomnia

A man who served in Iraq described his experience on Health Central. This is an excerpt from what he said:

“I suffer from hypervigilance, specifically I am jumpy and uncomfortable if I don’t have a wall behind my back. I am suspicious of people’s actions. Because of my job I’m living apart from my wife and kids right now, but my wife says that I’m very jumpy and look “scared” all the time. I don’t sleep well and have frequent bad dreams. I’m getting better now, but I was very much a thrill seeker when I first came back from each tour. I was confrontational, picked fights, suffered from road rage, etc. This is common but not healthy.”

Those that have experienced trauma may have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after a highly stressful, upsetting, traumatizing experience. Trauma could be from an attack, injury, natural disaster, childhood abuse, and much more. Frightening nightmares, hypervigilance, over-arousal and anxiety – all symptoms of PTSD, can keep a person up at night.

A 2016 study conducted by researchers from the University of Zurich found that sleeping within 24 hours after a traumatic incident can help the brain process these distressing memories, but what if a person is physically unable to sleep, such as a person in the army might experience? The National Sleep Foundation states that trauma can overstimulate the body, and the brain can become flooded with neurochemicals that keep us awake – this can result in insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue from not sleeping well. Whether the traumatic incident happened at nighttime or not, darkness can often trigger feelings of anxiety due to the vulnerability that sleeping and nighttime hold.

Some individuals with PTSD also abuse substances to try and cope with their feelings. There are healthier alternatives to getting better rest, however. For example, participating in meditation and mindfulness-based activities before bed can help ease and relax the mind. Avoid drinking coffee or energizing drinks anytime after early morning. Do not watch the news or anything upsetting before bedtime, and seek help from a doctor for sleeping medication if it’s needed. Create an environment that is comfortable for you to sleep in, and a space that you feel safe. Take small naps during the day if this helps.

If you have PTSD and your symptoms are significantly affecting your daily life, consider reaching out to a reputable treatment center.

Simple Recovery is a world-renowned, California state-licensed substance abuse recovery treatment center. We offer support for dual diagnosis, so if you are experiencing PTSD and are abusing substances to cope with your symptoms, call us today at 888-743-0490 so that we can work with you to restore your happiness, health, and well-being. You do not have to continue living this way; there are many people here ready to help you.