Trauma and Sleep

Trauma and Sleep

Stress from a traumatic event can often lead to a variety of sleep problems. When the body is overworked, the brain is flooded with neurochemicals that keep us awake, such as epinephrine and adrenaline. This makes it hard for the mind and body to relax at the end of the day, keeping you alert and awake when you want to go to sleep. As the neurochemicals remain present in the brain and can interrupt your normal sleep cycle, you could suffer from insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue that’s the result of sleep disturbance. This is why trauma and sleep usually don’t go hand in hand, but there are ways to get a good snooze.

Trauma and Sleep Problems

There are common sleep problems that follow a trauma, and these include:

  • Flashbacks and troubling thoughts
  • The need to feel on-guard or vigilant
  • Anxiety and restlessness in the dark
  • Naps during the day – although they can be helpful, taking too many naps can interfere with sleeping at night
  • Nightmares – they could wake someone up in fear, and this’ll keep them from getting back to sleep
  • Alcohol or drugs

People who have sleep problems and anxiety could also have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic event that results in a feeling of a loss of control. You can read more about this in our article, ‘PTSD and Sleep’.

How Can You Help Yourself Get A Good Sleep?

For people who are suffering from temporary sleep problems, there are a few ways for dealing with insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue. It’s a good idea to try to reduce any feelings of stress or anxiety, especially before you go to bed. Below, you can find some tips as to how to make sure you’re relaxed at bedtime.

Avoid watching TV before sleeping. Don’t watch the news or anything that could worry or stress you. TVs also emit a blue light that disrupts the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This makes it even harder to get to sleep.

Sleep where you feel rested and safe. While the bedroom is the best place, it mightn’t be possible to rest there soon after the trauma if you experienced violence in this room. Therefore, finding somewhere that you feel safe is a great step towards getting a good rest.

Have a healthy sleeping environment. Where you sleep should be safe, quiet, and cool. Also, although sleeping in a dark room often helps, it might be necessary to keep a nightlight on. This can help to promote a safer feeling. It may also help to have a friend or family member stay in the room – or a room that’s close – while you’re sleeping.

Have a relaxing bedtime routine. By having a relaxing routine before going to bed, you’ll signal to your brain and body that it’s almost time to go to sleep. Engage in relaxing activities, like reading or listening to music. Soaking in a warm bath could be helpful, too. It’s important that you avoid any stimulating activities, such as talking about your violent experience, right before you go to bed.

Watch what you eat and drink. Avoid eating heavy meals before going to bed, but make sure that you don’t go to bed hungry. Both of these can disrupt your sleep schedule. Also, reduce the amount of caffeine and nicotine that you consume during the day. Avoid drinking caffeine after lunch time and, if you’re a smoker, don’t smoke before going to bed. Plus, it’s a good idea to avoid consuming alcohol within six hours of your bedtime. Although alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it’ll keep you from getting a deep sleep, and it’ll also make you wake up much earlier than you need to be awake.

Rest when you need to. It’s natural to feel exhausted after a violent trauma, so you may need more rest, or to rest differently during this time. Resting for brief times throughout the day, and even taking short fifteen-minute naps, could help.

Go to bed when you feel ready to sleep. Don’t force your sleep, as this can add to the pressure of wanting to get to sleep. This will only make you feel more anxious and stressed. If you are lying awake in bed over several nights, your brain will come to associate your bed with being restless. This will make falling asleep yet more difficult and is counter-productive. If you feel sleepy and go to bed, but then find that your thoughts are whizzing about again, get out of bed and do something relaxing. Read a book or get a glass of water or milk. When you feel drowsy again, go back to bed.

Consider a weighted blanket. The extra weight offered by these blankets can create a sense of security, and they may help calm or comfort restless or stressed individuals. You can browse our selection of weighted blankets here – it’s recommended that you choose one that’s about 10% of your overall weight.

Although these are some suggestions as to how you can relax at bedtime for a good sleep, the best way to help yourself is to see your doctor. Your doctor will discuss your sleep and symptoms to find if you have a sleeping disorder and, if so, can prescribe sleeping medication. You may also be referred to a mental health specialist to find the best care.

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