Your brain needs sleep so it can consolidate memories, remove toxins, and rebuild neural networks. But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may have fractured sleep, have trouble falling asleep, or wake up too early. Your sleep might also be disrupted by nightmares and night terrors.
About 9 in 10 women and men with PTSD have some form of insomnia. You’re more likely to have sleep problems if you’re struggling with other types of mental health issues, including substance abuse, depression, and anxiety.
The more you worry about sleep, though, the more elusive it becomes. At Precise Research Centers, led by Joseph Kwentus, MD, and Karen Richardson, PhD, we diagnose and treat PTSD at our office in Flowood, Mississippi. Following are a few tips to help you relax again to improve your sleep and your PTSD.
Insomnia describes when you have trouble falling or staying asleep for three or more nights per week. However, when you have PTSD, you may have other manifestations and issues that disrupt your sleep, including:
Unfortunately, sleeping pills don’t give you a genuinely deep, healing sleep. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy and help you fall asleep, but it then disrupts your sleep and awakens you early. Instead, develop new habits that improve your ability to relax and fall into a deep, restful sleep.
Our hectic lifestyle with 24/7 access to disturbing and disruptive information wreaks havoc on sleep. If you have PTSD, all of that stimulation is extra disruptive. The following sleep hygiene habits help you gain control over your environment, relax your mind, and improve your restorative rest:
Remove all sources of blue light from your bedroom. Blue light mimics sunlight, which tells your body that it’s daytime and you should be awake and alert. That’s the opposite of what your body needs at night.
If you have a TV in your bedroom, take it out. Ban your tablets and phones from your sleep space. Cover all electronic “ON” lights with black tape. Cover your windows with black-out drapes that completely seal out all light.
When your lights are off, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. If you need a light for nighttime urination, keep a red-light flashlight handy or use a red night-light in the bathroom.
Now that you’ve made your bedroom as dark as a cave, make it as cool as one, too. Your core temperature must lower in order to attain deep and relaxing sleep. Aim for about 65℉ in the bedroom. Keep your feet warm, though, by wearing socks.
If you have PTSD, the silence of the night may actually terrify you. You may turn on the TV or radio to fill the void.
However, TV and radio sounds can wake you up or keep you in an aroused state. Instead, use a white-noise machine or a white noise app on your phone, or even a fan. The constant, rhythmic white noises soothe your nervous system while also filling the silence.
Make sure you exercise daily so your body burns off plenty of energy. Exercise also increases blood flow to your brain, so it can relax and regenerate. Don’t exercise within a few hours of bed or else your heart rate will be too elevated to let your body relax.
Fast for a few hours before bedtime. Big meals engage your digestive system, which means your organs don’t get to rest completely. Eating too close to bedtime can also give you nightmares.
If you tend to wake up at night to urinate, drink more water during the day and less during the evening. Avoid caffeine after 2pm, and don’t drink alcohol after dinner.
All types of insomnia respond to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and so does PTSD. When you learn to manage your fears and avoid or dampen triggers, your mind can rest, so you can, too.
We also have ongoing clinical trials with new drugs that help you manage PTSD symptoms. If you’re accepted into a clinical trial, all of your expenses related to the medication and therapy are covered during the trial period.