People with PTSD may experience a number of different types of sleep problems. Many people with PTSD have difficulties falling asleep as compared to people without PTSD. In fact, one study of Vietnam veterans found that almost half of those with PTSD said that they have trouble falling asleep at night, whereas only 13% without PTSD said that they have this problem.
In addition, PTSD may make it difficult to stay asleep during the night. In the same study mentioned above, 9 out of 10 veterans with PTSD said that they often have trouble staying asleep during the night.
PTSD can cause problems getting to sleep and staying asleep. People with PTSD may wake up frequently during the night, have difficulty falling back asleep, or may wake up earlier than they intended.
PTSD can cause problems with quality of sleep. Also, even if sleep does occur, it is often not good, effective sleep (for example, there may be a lot of movement or talking/yelling during sleep).
10 Reasons People with PTSD may have Trouble Sleeping
Sleep has many purposes. The brain processes the previous day’s experiences and throughout the body numerous processes take place to repair the body as we sleep. The entire normal experience of sleep can become disrupted when one is experiencing PTSD.
Sleep problems are often one of the more difficult symptoms of PTSD to treat and the exact causes of these sleep problems in PTSD is not really well known. However, there have been some ideas.
Nightmares and “bad dreams” are very common among people with PTSD. Nightmares are considered one of the re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Among people with PTSD, nightmares may be about the traumatic event a person experienced or they may be about some other upsetting or threatening event.
It has been suggested that the nightmares of PTSD result in difficulties falling or staying asleep. Nightmares are frightening and upsetting and can disturb the process of sleep.
2. Afraid of Nightmares
The fear of having a nightmare also may cause a person with PTSD to resist going to bed feel afraid of going to sleep.
3. Sense a Nightmare Coming
As people experience more nightmares and resultant waking, the nightmares may actually begin to trigger waking in order to escape the arousal that goes along with having a nightmare.
Sleep problems among people with PTSD may also be the result of experiencing frequent symptoms of hyperarousal – constantly being on guard, tense, and on edge. A highly stressed nervous system and increased tension throughout the body can make it hard to relax and can interfere with one’s ability to fall and/or stay asleep.
Night itself, or the act of falling asleep or waking up, may be triggers and cause terror/hyperarousal if a trauma occurred at night, when falling asleep, or when waking up (for example if someone experienced being raped at night).
Sometimes flashbacks can occur at night and cause fear, inner turmoil and confusion.
People with PTSD may be more sensitive to sounds while they sleep. They are strung tight and easily jump at any unusual sound. As a result, they may be more likely to wake up even in response to minor sounds.
8. Loss of Control
People with PTSD may also view going to sleep as a loss of control. The lack of awareness and control that comes with sleeping may be frightening for a person with PTSD, thereby further intensifying arousal and interfering with sleep.
9. Fears about Sleep
Because of all these sleep problems, people with PTSD often develop fears about going to sleep. They may experience worries or thoughts of their traumatic event as soon as they go to bed. They may also fear acting out their nightmares while asleep or impulsively upon being woken up from a nightmare, leading them to sleep alone away from their partners.
10. Problematic Cycle
Sleep problems connected with PTSD may lead to a problematic cycle. Because of a lack of sleep during the night, a person may sleep more during the day, leading to greater difficulties falling asleep at night.
Sleep problems are important to address because poor sleep can lead to a number of other problems. A lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can be a factor contributing to even more stress and mood problems such as depression. Poor sleep can also have a negative impact on your physical health.
Changing sleep habits may be helpful in improving your ability to fall asleep. There are a number of things you can do to improve your sleep. Try some of the suggestions in the next article and see if you can change any of your bad sleep habits.
It may also be important to obtain treatment for your PTSD. Given that many of the sleep problems experienced by people with PTSD are thought to result from the symptoms of PTSD, by reducing those symptoms you may also improve your sleep. However, it is important to note that people sometimes find that their sleep problems remain even after the successful treatment of PTSD. Therefore, it may be important to also seek out assistant from doctors that specialize in sleep problems.
Those of us with Operation Pegasus help people understand posttraumatic stress and how to self-administer the symptom management skills of the Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM). Family members are invited to participate. Get control and get relief. Call or email us today. We’ll get started right away.