What Is the Relationship Between PTSD And Sleep. How to Sleep Better With PTSD? Update 07/2024

A chronically elevated state of alertness following a traumatic incident characterizes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events can have long-term effects on people’s lives, and they may not know they have post-traumatic stress disorder for months or even years after the event occurs. Women are more likely to get the condition, although it can happen to anyone. An estimated seven people out of every 100 will be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives.

The link between PTSD and sleep is complicated. In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disturbances are regarded as an integral aspect of the ailment. Hyperarousal and intrusion, two of the symptoms used to identify PTSD, are intimately linked to insomnia and nightmares. Researchers are still attempting to figure out if PTSD causes sleep problems or if PTSD causes sleep problems.

What is PTSD?

Anxiety disorder PTSD is caused by extremely stressful, frightening, or disturbing experiences that have occurred.

As a result of the traumatic event, a person with PTSD may suffer from recurring nightmares and flashbacks as well as emotions of irritation and guilt.

In addition to difficulty concentrating, they may have difficulty falling asleep, such as insomnia.

These symptoms can have a substantial influence on a person’s daily life if they are severe and persistent.

Causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can develop as a result of exposure to any kind of traumatic event.

Some examples are as follows:

  • catastrophic mishaps on the road.
  • Theft, robbery, or mugging that results in serious injury or death to the victim.
  • a grave state of ill-health.
  • experiences during labor.

PTSD can manifest itself right away or weeks, months, or even years after a traumatic event has occurred.

A person with a traumatic experience is at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in one out of every three. However, no one knows why some people acquire the disorder and others do not.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Complex PTSD may be diagnosed in those who have been subjected to repeated traumatic events, such as severe neglect, abuse, or violence.

Even though the symptoms of complex PTSD are similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they may not appear for years after the traumatic event has occurred.

A child’s development can be harmed more severely if the trauma occurred early in life.

How Do Sleep Issues Affect PTSD Symptoms?

Those who have trouble sleeping after a distressing event are more prone to acquire post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When it comes to sleep disturbance, nightmares, insomnia, and fragmented rapid eye movement (REM) sleep are all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It’s possible that sleep issues that occurred before the stressful event could also have a role. Those who reported having dreams before going to battle had a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon their return.

The prevalence of sleep issues appears to increase PTSD symptoms once the disorder has taken hold. Many people continue to have insomnia even after receiving treatment for their daily PTSD symptoms.

The brain’s ability to process memories and emotions is hampered by sleep problems in PTSD, which makes it take longer to recover from a traumatic incident. In addition, many persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) turn to alcohol and other narcotics to help them sleep. In fact, these unproductive coping methods exacerbate sleep problems and exacerbate PTSD symptoms rather than alleviate them.

How Does PTSD Affect Sleep?

A common complaint of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an inability to fall asleep and a proclivity for numerous nighttime awakenings. A common symptom of PTSD is recurring dreams. These difficulties cause sleep to be interrupted and unsatisfying.

The difficulty of getting a good night’s sleep is compounded for those who suffer from medical conditions such as chronic pain, substance misuse, traumatic brain injury, or depression. REM sleep, the period of sleep during which humans dream, is a critical sleep stage for dealing with traumatic memories. Certain sleep drugs, however, interfere with REM sleep.

There are three main types of sleep issues associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

  • Insomnia: Insomnia affects as many as nine out of ten veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Due to their hyperarousal, the individual is unable to go to sleep at night. It’s also possible that it’s a side effect of being in a position that necessitated nighttime vigilance. As the stress of not being able to fall asleep eventually leads to maladaptive sleep patterns like daytime napping or substance addiction, insomnia in PTSD may also be self-perpetuating.
  • Nightmares and Night Terrors: The majority of persons with PTSD suffer from nightmares and night terrors, which cause them to wake up during the night and make it difficult to get back to sleep. Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) describe recurring nightmares as a result of their vivid dreams. Some people use visual rehearsal therapy to help them sleep better at night by rewriting their dreams in their minds while they’re awake.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA is more common in persons with PTSD, but it’s not known why. It could be linked to variables like prolonged arousal or alcohol usage. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices have been proven to be effective in treating OSA in persons with PTSD and may even lower the frequency of their nightmares, according to research. A mandibular advancement device may be preferable to CPAP for persons who find it triggering or claustrophobic.

Overall PTSD symptoms can be alleviated by treating sleep issues caused by PTSD and co-occurring disorders like depression.

The Connection Between PTSD, Sleep, and the Brain

There is evidence that the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and insular cortex, all of which overlap, play a role in both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep disorders. These parts of the brain are probably responsible for the patient experiencing flashbacks and dreams of the traumatic experience, as well as for keeping them hyperaroused.

According to research, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sleep with their heart rates up, indicating an elevated fight-or-flight reaction that keeps the body always alert. In PTSD sufferers, sleep disturbances include greater stage one light sleep, less slow-wave sleep, and fragmented REM sleep. This is not surprising.

PTSD and sleep may be linked in a number of ways, including the way the brain handles fear-inducing memories. When a traumatic experience occurs, the brain develops a negative association with particular stimuli. Long after the traumatic incident has occurred, this link may be so powerful that the person reacts violently to any similar stimulation.

A process termed extinction memory occurs during which the brain learns to disassociate the input from its acquired reaction. Normally this response is diminished. In REM sleep, a lot of emotional memory processing occurs, and experts believe that PTSD sufferers may not be able to process their trauma effectively because of sleep disturbances.

Anxiety and hypersensitivity to triggers can result from sleep loss, which can also create daytime tiredness. Positive benefits on PTSD appear to be correlated with improvements in sleep.

How to Sleep Better With PTSD

Many aspects of good sleep hygiene can help alleviate some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among them:

  • The importance of maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment.
  • Restricting the bedroom to sleeping and sex.
  • Going to bed at the same hour every night.
  • Preventing insomnia by following a healthy diet and staying away from caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Being physically active on a regular basis, which also reduces hyperarousal.
  • Talking about your traumatic incident before going to sleep can cause you to feel anxious and agitated the next day.
  • Preparing for sleep by taking a warm bath or reading a comforting book is a tried and true method.
  • One hour before you go to bed, turn off all electronics.
  • Use a white noise machine if noise sensitivities prevent you from sleeping.
  • Avoid ruminating through practicing meditation or other methods.

You should sleep in a place where you feel safe, whether or not it is your bedroom. A nightlight can help you sleep better if you’re afraid of the dark.

Fear of nightmares is a common fear for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The downside is that it can lead to a long night’s sleep with thoughts racing. In the event that you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes in the same position, get out of bed and do something soothing in another room until you feel drowsy again. In doing so, you’ll deepen the link between your bed and sleep.

Seek treatment from your doctor if you’re having difficulties sleeping or turning to things like drugs or alcohol to help you sleep. In addition to PTSD-specific therapies like imagery rehearsal therapy or exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy, they can help you identify a therapist who delivers cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). They may also suggest a sleep aid, but this comes with a greater set of hazards and should only be used under strict medical supervision.

It may take some time to be able to sleep through the night again after a traumatic experience, so don’t give up hope. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and working closely with your doctor should help you feel better in the long run. It is especially beneficial to persons with insomnia because sleep and PTSD are so intertwined.

Sleep Tips for Partners of People With PTSD

People with PTSD and their relationships may have trouble sleeping for several reasons. With a companion who frequently wakes up during the night, a mattress that reduces noise and movement may be beneficial.

An aggressive reaction from your partner may be caused by nightmares or night terrors. For some couples, it may be necessary for one or both partners to sleep in a separate, adjacent bedroom in order for them to receive adequate shut-eye.

Getting some exercise in with your partner during the day can also be beneficial. Creating healthy routines together may strengthen your relationship and restore your partner’s sense of security as well as help you get a better night’s sleep.

It is common for caregivers to suffer from sentiments of self-blame and a conviction that they are responsible for saving their partner. Helping someone else at the expense of your own well-being might be detrimental to both of you. Burnout can be lessened with the support of a solid support system, such as a therapist-client relationship, a group support system, or even a strong network of family and friends.

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