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Sleep and PTSD

Many people have trouble sleeping sometimes. This is even more likely, though, if you have PTSD. Trouble sleeping and nightmares are two symptoms of PTSD.

If you have PTSD, you may have sleep problems because you:

  • Are "on alert." Many people with PTSD may feel they need to be on guard or "on the lookout," to protect themselves from danger. It is difficult to have restful sleep when you feel the need to be on guard. You might have trouble falling asleep, or you might wake up easily in the night if you hear any noise.

  • Worry or have negative thoughts. Your thoughts can make it difficult to fall asleep. People with PTSD often worry about general problems or worry that they are in danger. If you often have trouble getting to sleep, you may start to worry that you won't be able to fall asleep. These thoughts can keep you awake.

  • Use drugs or alcohol. Some people with PTSD use drugs or alcohol to help them cope with their symptoms. In fact, using too much alcohol can get in the way of restful sleep. Alcohol changes the quality of your sleep and makes it less refreshing. This is true of many drugs as well.

  • Have bad dreams or nightmares. Nightmares are common for people with PTSD. Nightmares can wake you up in the middle of the night, making your sleep less restful. If you have frequent nightmares, you may find it difficult to fall asleep because you are afraid you might have a nightmare.

  • Have health problems. There are health problems that are commonly found in people with PTSD, such as chronic pain, stomach problems, and pelvic-area problems in women. These physical problems can make going to sleep difficult.

If you can't sleep

There are a number of things you can do to make it more likely that you will sleep well. You should try the following:

Change your sleeping area. Too much noise, light, or activity in your bedroom can make sleeping harder. Creating a quiet, comfortable sleeping area can help. Here are some things you can do to sleep better:

  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping and sex.

  • Move the TV and radio out of your bedroom.

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Use curtains or blinds to block out light. Consider using soothing music or a "white noise" machine to block out noise.

Keep a bedtime routine and sleep schedule. Having a bedtime routine and a set wake-up time will help your body get used to a sleeping schedule. You may want to ask others who live with you to help you with your routine. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t do stressful or energizing things within two hours of going to bed.

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. You might want to take a warm shower or bath, listen to soothing music, or drink a cup of tea with no caffeine in it.

  • Use a sleep mask and earplugs, if light and noise bother you.

  • Try to get up at the same time every morning, even if you feel tired. That will help to set your sleep schedule over time, and you will be more likely to fall asleep easily when bedtime comes. Don’t to sleep more than an hour past your regular wake-up time on weekends.

Try to relax if you can’t sleep. You can try the following:

  • Imagine yourself in a peaceful, pleasant scene. Focus on the details and feelings of being in a place that is relaxing.

  • Get up and do a quiet activity, such as reading, until you feel sleepy.  

Watch your activities during the day. Your daytime habits and activities can affect how well you sleep. Here are some tips:

  • Exercise during the day. Don't exercise within two hours of going to bed, though, because it may make it harder to fall asleep.

  • Get outside during daylight hours. Spending time in sunlight helps to reset your body's sleep and wake cycles.

  • Cut out or limit what you drink or eat that has caffeine in it, such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate.

  • Don't drink alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol can cause you to wake up more often during the night.

  • Don't smoke or use tobacco, especially in the evening. Nicotine can keep you awake.

  • Don't take naps during the day, especially close to bedtime.

  • Don't drink any liquids after 6 p.m. if you wake up often because you have to go to the bathroom.

  • Don't take medicine that may keep you awake, or make you feel hyper or energized right before bed. Your healthcare provider can tell you if your medicine may do this and if you can take it earlier in the day. 

When to call your healthcare provider

If you can't sleep because you are in pain or have an injury, you often feel anxious at night, or you often have bad dreams or nightmares, talk with your healthcare provider.

Sleep problems, like being unable to fall or stay asleep and nightmares, are some of the most common problems for those who have PTSD. While these sleep problems are considered symptoms of PTSD, they may become problems on their own over time. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn if you would benefit from sleep-focused treatment. There are both medicines and talk therapy (cognitive behavioral treatment) options available.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2018
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