Restorations Therapy Blog

Mending the Relationship Between Sleep and PTSD

by on Saturday, October 9th, 2021

Young caucasian boy sleeping in bed

Getting diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might begin to explain the many challenges you’ve faced in your everyday life. Once you learn the symptoms and impact of PTSD, you can begin to work with the disorder so you can enjoy your life again. 

PTSD occurs in people after they have experienced a traumatic event. People diagnosed with PTSD experience stress responses and anxiety long after the initial threat of the event has taken place. 

The symptoms of PTSD are placed into four categories: intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. The two categories that deal directly with sleep are intrusion and arousal, and reactivity. 

The Link Between Sleep and PTSD

Most commonly, the earliest signs of PTSD are sleep disturbances. These include:

  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Fragmented REM

Intrusion, the first category of symptoms for PTSD, refers to triggered, intrusive thoughts surrounding the traumatic event. Intrusion may present itself in the form of distressing dreams or flashbacks. The occurrence of nightmares can disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to fall back to sleep, especially if the dreams continue. 

Arousal and reactivity include symptoms such as irritability, reckless behavior, and problems with concentration and sleeping. People diagnosed with PTSD can be in a heightened state of arousal, making it difficult to relax, even when necessary. Studies on this relationship have shown that people who have PTSD have a faster heart rate while sleeping due to this heightened state. 

The Problem With Fragmented REM

REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is the final stage in the sleep cycle where emotional memory processing occurs. In the processing of memories lies extinction memory

When a traumatic event occurs, your brain will associate certain stimuli with a negative response. In extinction memory, the brain will slowly start to disassociate the stimuli with the negative response. This means that your brain is working to calm triggers you may experience in your everyday life during memory extinction.

How to Repair the Relationship

It may feel defeating to learn that sleep is an essential part of healing from PTSD and that PTSD directly affects your ability to have a good night’s rest. That’s why it is crucial to take the necessary steps to ensure good health and wellness in both of these areas to repair this relationship. 

Treatments for PTSD include psychotherapy and medication. Talk therapy can help those with PTSD by teaching them how to cope with the complicated feelings of blame and regret that arise from flashbacks and intrusion.  

It is important to remember that you are not alone. The National Center for PTSD reports that between seven and eight percent of adults will have PTSD in their lives. 

You can also take steps to ensure a better night’s rest when struggling with PTSD, including. 

  • Reserve your bedroom for sleep
  • A regular bedtime schedule
  • Healthy diet and exercise
  • Limit screen time before bed
  • Do not stay in bed if you cannot fall asleep
  • Meditation to avoid ruminating thoughts
  • Have a cool, dark, sleeping environment with adequate bedding and pillows

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that affects seven percent of adults at some point in their lives. With this disorder comes difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, and nightmares. It can be difficult to repair this relationship, even after your daytime symptoms have resided. If you find yourself having difficulty sleeping after experiencing a traumatic event or struggling with any other symptoms from PTSD, Restorations Therapy is here to help. Call us at (720) 446-6585 to learn more. 


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