Tag Archives: getting back to sleep

Nine Things You Can Do To Improve Your Sleep

The previous post on PTSD and Sleep presented 10 Reasons PTSD May Cause Problems Sleeping. When we lose sleep, the brain keeps an exact accounting of how much sleep is owed in order to get caught up. This is called our sleep debt. The effect of each successive night of partial sleep loss is carried over, and the effect accumulates. The strength of the tendency to fall asleep is progressively greater during each successive day. If we miss three hours one night, we must sleep 11 hours the next night in order to feel alert throughout the day. In fact, we don’t work off a large sleep debt by getting just one good night’s sleep.

Fortunately, you can do a number of things to improve the quality and amount of sleep that you get. In this companion post you’ll find 9 recommendations from sleep researchers about steps you can take to improve your sleep quality.

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1. Exercise during the day

Do aerobic exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime. This can take various forms such as a routine like walking, jogging, aerobic classes, various workout routines, and vigorous work that raise your heart rate for a half hour or longer. However, try to avoid exercise within four hours of your bedtime. Reading boring material helps with calming down after exercise.

2. Keep to a Regular Sleep Schedule

Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Over millions of years our bodies have developed a remarkably precise biological clock that regulates sleeping and waking. The nighttime – daytime cycle is represented in miniature within our cells. It also synchronizes a vast array of biochemical events in our bodies such as chemical, hormonal, and nerve cell activities that promote our daily fluctuation in feelings and actions.

Bright light, like sunlight can reset the night/day (circadian) cycle. Light is the most powerful time cue our bodies have. The use of electric lights in the evening, which we previously thought had no effect, can have a profound effect in lengthening our biological day and shifting our clocks. Even doing email or reading at night has the potential to fool our bodies into delaying our biological onset of sleepiness. Being surrounded by electric lights in the evening pushes our biological clocks around, so that our clocks start lagging about an hour every day.

Also, be aware that your infant’s sleep patterns may reflect your evening activities such as going to a mall in the evenings – exposure to bright lights. For more regular sleep, prefer a more routine and less light-stimulated evening schedule.

3. Avoid Heavy Meals before Bedtime

Avoid eating heavy meals before going to bed; however, make sure that you do not go to bed hungry. To increase your chances of a good night’s sleep, have a milk product or light carbohydrate snack shortly before bedtime. Don’t sweeten your warm milk with artificial sweetener. Food additives in general and artificial sweeteners in particular tend to increase alertness, which interferes with sleep.

Consume carbohydrates and fats as evening snacks if you eat snacks after dinner. Avoid beans and other protein-rich foods, raw onions, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), and spicy foods shortly before bedtime.

4. Limit Alcohol, Caffeine, and Nicotine Consumption

Alcohol consumption reduces the relative amount of time spent in REM sleep; therefore, sleep following alcohol consumption is not as restful as alcohol-free sleep. The more alcohol we consume, the less REM sleep we get and the less rested we are in the morning. It’s best to avoid consuming alcohol within three hours of your bedtime.

Also, reduce the amount of caffeine and nicotine that you consume during the day. Because caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, avoid drinking caffeine after lunch time, and do not smoke just before going to bed.

5. Avoid Naps after 3 PM

The ideal time for a nap, according to sleep researchers, seems to be 12 hours after the midpoint of one’s previous night’s sleep. So if you sleep from 11:00 PM to 6:00 AM, your nap urge should be around 2 PM. The ideal length seems to be 30 minutes. Evening naps appear to interfere with sleep.

The effects of napping are different for the sleep-deprived and the non-deprived. For the sleep-deprived, napping improves performance but not mood. For normal sleepers, napping improves mood but not performance.

6. Change Tactics after 30 Minutes of Trying

Trying to force yourself to fall asleep often fails. If you are having a hard time falling asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get up out of bed and try to do something relaxing (for example, drinking warm milk or a calming herbal tea, reading a book). If you can’t quiet your thinking, try writing down what’s on your mind. Return to bed when you feel drowsy.

7. Make Your Bedroom Quiet, Dark, and Cool

Try to make your bedroom a relaxing place, and try to limit your activities in the bedroom. For example, do not eat, watch television, check e-mail on your laptop, or talk on the phone in bed. Your bedroom should be associated with sleep. Utilize a white noise machine, ear plugs, or an eye mask to help block out any distracting noises or light. Try to keep your bedroom at a cool and comfortable temperature.

8. Use a Relaxation Routine

Practice relaxation before or after going to bed. Relaxation routines are designed to release muscle tension, stop thinking about activities, and slow down your breathing. A technique called progressive relaxation is very effective. Start by focusing your attention on your feet and ankles and release all the tension in them. Then, focus your attention on the muscles from your ankles to your knees and release all the tension in those tissues. Keep working your way up your body this way. The next segment is from your knees to your hips. Then from your hips to your waist. Next, from your waist to your shoulders. Then your arms, hands, and fingers. Then your neck, jaw, and face. Notice that the tissues in each segment are completely relaxed and at ease before going to the next segment. This is also good for getting back to sleep when you wake at night.

9. Use Medications for Sleep Cautiously and Only Under a Physician’s Supervision

In his book titled The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D. provides some guidelines for using the over-the-counter medication called melatonin. He recommends taking melatonin only in the evenings, unless you are taking it for help with sleep problems associated with changing work shifts. In that case, take your dosage two hours before desired sleep onset, regardless of the time of day.

He notes that people in their 20’s should take melatonin infrequently and only for insomnia. Those in their 30’s to 50’s may take it more frequently for insomnia; those over 60, daily. Begin with 0.5 mg of melatonin two hours before desired sleep onset, and increase by 0.5 mg until desired sleep quality is attainted.

For jet lag associated with travel involving time-zone changes, try 1 mg of melatonin for each time zone crossed. Take your dosage a few hours before bedtime at your destination. Do the same again when you return.

He emphasizes consulting your physician if you are taking other medications, or if your dosage of melatonin exceeds 10 mg.


 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.


PTSD and Sleep – 10 Reasons PTSD May Cause Problems Sleeping

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.

1. Nightmares

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.

4. Hyperarousal

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.

5. Triggers

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).

6. Flashbacks

Sometimes flashbacks can occur at night and cause fear, inner turmoil and confusion.

7. Sounds

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.

PTSD and Sleep - 10 Reasons PTSD May Cause Problems Sleeping
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.