Insomnia and PTSD frequently co-occur.  If you have gone through a traumatic experience, it is normal to feel lots of emotions, such as distress, fear, helplessness, guilt, shame or anger.  You may start to feel better after days or weeks, but sometimes, these feelings don’t go away.  If the symptoms last for more than a month, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.  PTSD is a real problem and can happen at any age.  If you have PTSD, you are not alone.  It affects nearly eight million American adults.

People who have problems falling to sleep, staying asleep or typically wake up earlier than planned have insomnia. To fit the diagnosis the condition must have lasted for longer than a month.

People with insomnia and PTSD frequently co-occur because: 

They worry incessantly – In the dark and quiet of nighttime their thoughts turn to safety issues, problems they may be dealing with and they can’t stop going over the negative thoughts. This keeps them awake and unable to relax and fall asleep.

They are constantly on guard – They have a need to check and re-check things to make sure they’re safe and secure. They will check door locks, look out the window for intruders, make sure their family is sleeping and not in any danger. They are guarding against anticipated threat feelings of fear related to PTSD.

They are prone to health issues – As a result of their trauma they may suffer from any number of health issues such as headaches, chronic pain, stomach or problems in the pelvic area (women). These physical conditions make it hard to fall asleep or cause the sufferer to wake up and have problems getting back to sleep.

They are prone to using alcohol or drugs – People with PTSD tend to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to just cope with their anxiety. Drinking too much can interfere with sleep and cause tossing and turning throughout the night, preventing a good restful sleep.

Nightmares and bad dreams are common – Those with PTSD are prone to reliving their trauma in their dreams. The nightmare will wake up and then they’ll be fearful of falling asleep again and resuming the nightmare or bad dream.

Bedtime hints to help improve Insomnia and PTSD: 

  • Designate the bedroom for having sex and sleep only.
  • Control the noise level if you cannot sleep without the television on.
  • There is no arguing allowed at bedtime.
  • Do not use the computer or watch TV in the bedroom if at all possible.
  • If you are afraid to turn off the lights then at least dim them.
  • Do not exercise at night do it in the morning.
  • Make it a point to do something relaxing for at least two hours before going to bed.
  • Wait until you are sleepy before going to bed.
  • Do not drink alcohol, smoke, eat a rich spicy meal, have tea or chocolate at night.
  • Get up and out of bed at the same time every morning no matter what.
  • On a daily basis maintain a regular routine.
  • Avoid napping during the day.

See your physician for insomnia and PTSD and discuss treatment options: 

  • Treat any pain you may have with medication.
  • Practice some behavioral techniques to improve sleep patterns long-term.
  • Discuss medication or other techniques to control the nightmares.

Insomnia and PTSD