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How to Manage Sleep Problems Linked With PTSD

Jan 12, 2023
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If you have PTSD, you may dread your bed. Sleep brings on the nightmares and flashbacks. Or, you can’t sleep at all due to intrusive thoughts and memories. But not getting enough sleep can make PTSD worse. What can you do?

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.

How PTSD affects your sleep

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: 

  • Tendency to avoid sleep
  • Leg or arm twitching or movement
  • Sleep talking
  • Feeling too “alert” during “sleep”
  • Sleeping with TV or radio on
  • Using alcohol or sleeping pills to relax
  • Having nightmares or night terrors

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.

Improve your sleep hygiene

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:

Darken your bedroom

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.

Turn down the temperature

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.

Block the noise

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.

Get enough exercise, but not too late

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.

Time your food and beverages

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.

Get the support you need

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.

Trying to sleep doesn’t have to be a nightmare if you have PTSD. Contact our office today for PTSD and insomnia treatment by calling 601-685-3457 or booking an appointment online.

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