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How Does Trauma Affect Sleep and Things You Can Do to Improve Sleep?

Posted on January 18, 2019

How Does Trauma Affect Sleep and Things You Can Do to Improve Sleep?

Guest post by Sarah Cummings

Following a traumatic event, people regularly come across as distant and display signs of being somewhat disoriented. You may have read books and others forms of information that go into detail on the fact that people who’ve experienced a traumatic event possibly show a reluctance to speak or have the appearance of being ‘zoned out’ when someone addresses them too.  

In the days and weeks after trauma, sufferers can exhibit symptoms of anxiety, which might include mood swings, night terrors, a lack of attentiveness and irritability. What’s more, feelings of anxiety can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People experiencing trauma will often go through a host of other mental health problems including; substance abuse, anxiety disorders and depression. However, for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, those symptoms that have been described above must be present regardless of any co-occurring conditions.

One major problem that is frequently observed among those with PTSD is the knock-on effect in regard to their sleep. Good quality sleep, is, without question, an integral factor in the recovery of those with trauma-related issues and for those without them too for that matter.

The association between trauma and sleep

Studies have shown that some 70% of people living with PTSD often report sleep complaints; insomnia and nightmares are the two main problems in the list. The disruptions that apply to sleep quality and quantity almost always intertwine with the underlying signs of PTSD. The hyperarousal that occurs can lead on to bouts of significant paranoia and hypervigilance.

For example, if someone is concerned about intruders when they are sleeping at night, they’re more likely to sleep much lighter and also hear all the sounds around them during the night. This kind of anxious behaviour is at the forefront of sustained insomnia levels as opposed to sound slumber. What’s more, there’ve also been cases of isolated sleep paralysis in this situation.

The onset of PTSD might cause people to begin suffering flashbacks and nightmares which will undoubtedly cause problems particularly when sleep and sound rest are at stake. These episodes usually mean the person has the traumatic event replayed in their mind.

When people revisit this unpleasant time in their life, it is normally quite a vivid experience; in the most extreme of cases, the outcome of this might be injury-provoking or violent behaviours, as well as sleep talking. Additionally, they can go through hallucinations when falling into a state of sleep or waking up from it.  

At this moment in time, experts are still developing the best ways in which to address issues with sleep-related symptoms of PTSD, and this is largely down to not being fully aware of the exact causes of these sleep problems in PTSD.

While studies continue in the exploration of why people with PTSD might be more likely to incur sleep apnoea problems, what’s currently known is that those who have suffered trauma will frequently display a host of sleep apnoea risk factors including being more susceptible than people non-trauma sufferers to:

  •      High blood pressure
  •      Weight issues (overweight)
  •      Smoking
  •      Diabetes and other physical health problems
  •      Alcohol abuse

It is, however, well worth noting though, that sleep apnoea is a well-known and treatable condition.

It might become harder to stay in control when dealing with PTSD and the loss of quality sleep. Possessing a lower level of awareness and control from a lack of sleep will often become frightening for PTSD sufferers, which only fans the flames that cause barriers to sleep.

How to overcome trauma-related sleep issues

While PTSD can be a very restrictive condition, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s important for people to remember that. Effectual treatments are on hand to aid PTSD sufferers to overcome their symptoms and the burdens it can have on sound slumber.

The saying that you are what you eat rings true here. It’s widely advised that avoiding heavy meals before going to bed should be adhered to. Also, making sure not to go to the opposite end of the scale and end up going to bed hungry is essential too, as both can lead to disrupted sleep.

The whittling down or complete cutting out of nicotine and caffeine is a sensible move to make too, as both can make a person experience jittery behaviour and bouts of anxiousness.

Another big factor is to adopt strict sleeping habits. Not allowing naps to take any more 20-30 minutes during the day, and no napping after 3pm or sleep at night will be disrupted. Furthermore, no one should ever force themselves to sleep either because pushing it can intensify frustration.

Bedroom spaces should be a peaceful environment that is as welcoming and as cosy as possible, but there are some very positive effects of sleeping in a cold room which was reported on by Sarah Cummings of The Sleep Advisor, including:

  •      Falling asleep swiftly
  •      Enhanced sleep quality
  •      Better-quality melatonin release

Ensuring a relaxing space is available for when bedtime rolls around will make it easier and more enjoyable to drift off.

There’s plenty of evidence to support removing technology and other distractions from sleep spaces because, quite simply, bedrooms should be strictly associated with sleep and nothing but.

Websites to visit for more sleep tips:

  1. https://www.Sleepadvisor.org/  
  2. https://www.nhs.uk  
  3. https://www.nia.nih.gov

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