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PTSD and Sleep

Sleep problems are a common issue for people of all ages, but anyone diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder is more likely to experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Sleep disturbances and nightmares are common symptoms of PTSD, and these symptoms may even exacerbate other PTSD symptoms and make treatment more difficult.

Why Do People With PTSD Have Sleep Problems?

Sleep problems are common with PTSD for a number of reasons.

  • It’s common for patients with PTSD to feel that they need to be constantly on the lookout for danger. This hyper-alertness will often interfere with sleep. Patients may have trouble relaxing to fall asleep. They may also wake up easily and have trouble falling back to sleep.
  • Negative thoughts and worry can interfere with falling asleep. Worry may involve typical problems of daily life, or it can extend to extensive fears about personal safety or the safety of loved ones. Sometimes, even worry about being able to fall asleep can interfere with the ability to sleep.
  • Self-medication with drugs and alcohol is a common issue for people experiencing PTSD. Over-consumption of alcohol can interfere with sleep. Alcohol also interferes with sleep quality, and people often wake up feeling tired. Drugs can have a similar effect on sleep.
  • PTSD often involves nightmares, which can disrupt sleep. After waking in the middle of the night from a nightmare, it may be difficult to get back to sleep again. Fear may also set in with repeated nightmares: Some patients begin avoiding sleep because they don’t want to experience nightmares.
  • Patients who also experience physical health issues can have trouble sleeping. Chronic pain will often interfere with sleep. Digestive disorders, stomach problems, and reproductive issues in women are also common complaints. Many people have trouble falling asleep when they have a medical problem.

What Can You Do if You Have Sleep Problems?

If you are experiencing problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night, you may sleep better if you make some changes. Many adjustments are minor in nature but can still have a positive impact. When you make changes, follow through with the changes for several nights to see an improvement.

Change Your Sleeping Area

Examine your sleeping area to make sure it’s conducive to restful sleep. If your bedroom has too much activity, noise, or light, you may not be able to rest well. Create a quiet and comfortable sleeping area. Research mattress reviews to find a mattress that fits your sleep needs. Clinicians recommend that you use your bedroom for sleeping or sex only: Do not watch television or listen to the radio in your bedroom. Block out all light to ensure that the bedroom is dark. Keep the temperature cool for optimal sleeping. Some people sleep better with a white noise machine providing constant background noise, which also helps to block out other noises.

Keep a Bedtime Routine and Sleep Schedule

Maintaining a sleep schedule with the same bedtime and wake-up time helps your body acclimate to this schedule. Over time, your body will naturally be ready for sleep at the same time and be ready to wake at the same time. Institute a soothing bedtime routine to get your body ready to sleep. Taking a warm shower or drinking a cup of decaffeinated tea may help. Avoid engaging in energizing or stressful activities before sleep. If light and noise will disturb you, try wearing earplugs and a mask.

Going to bed at the same time every night can help make falling asleep easier

Going to bed at the same time every night can help make falling asleep easier

Try to Relax if You Can’t Sleep

If you can’t sleep, focus on relaxing instead. You might get out of bed and engage in quiet reading on the sofa until you feel ready for sleep. Avoid watching television or using electronics in this situation because this could make it even more difficult to sleep. Try focused relaxation to get your body ready to sleep. Imagine yourself in a peaceful setting, thinking about specific details that make you feel relaxed.

Watch Your Activities During the Day

Pay attention to your activities during waking hours to ensure that you’re not engaging in activities that will interfere with sleep.

  • Daily exercise is important for overall health. However, avoid exercising within two hours of bedtime.
  • Spend time outdoors in the sunshine every day to help regulate your waking and sleeping cycles.
  • Limit or avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine.
  • Avoid alcohol; it may cause sleep disturbances.
  • Avoid tobacco; nicotine may cause sleep disruptions.
  • Avoid napping during the day, especially in the evening.
  • Limit beverages after dinner so you won’t have to get up to use the bathroom.
  • Avoid medications that can cause sleeplessness.

Talk to Your Doctor

Consult your physician when you experience chronic sleep problems and disturbances. Anxious thoughts, nightmares, and pain are common causes of sleep problems, and a physician may be able to provide assistance. Depending on your symptoms and your general health condition, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you sleep. You may also receive guidance to learn skills that can help you get better sleep.

Talking with your doctor could help provide some answers and lead to improved sleep

Talking with your doctor could help provide some answers and lead to improved sleep

Other Resources for PTSD

More Resources

About Author

Derek Hales

Derek Hales

Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Derek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sleepopolis. Derek has tested over 100 of the most popular online mattresses, and scores of other bedding accessories. His testing approach is grounded in objective criteria and personalized in-depth research. Derek lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Samantha and dog Tibbers.

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