PTSD and Sleep: Here is What You Need to Know
If reliving a horrible past trauma keeps you up at night, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that, among other symptoms, can cause disturbing thoughts and sleeplessness. In addition to insomnia, PTSD creates significant psychological distress.
If you suspect that you may have PTSD, it’s essential that you reach out to a medical professional. Likewise, if you or a loved one is exhibiting self-injurious or harmful behavior, call 911 immediately.
To highlight the connection between PTSD and sleep disorders, AcousticSheep explored this trauma-induced condition, its symptoms, and potential treatments. Additionally, because getting good sleep is essential to both mental and physical health, we also explain how SleepPhones® headphones can be a helpful tool for those who struggle to get enough sleep.
What is PTSD?
Per the APA, PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after a person has lived through or witnessed a terrifying event. A natural disaster, terrible accident, terrorist act, war, rape, or other violent assault can all trigger PTSD.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD symptoms can start as early as one month after the traumatic event, although it is not uncommon for after-effects to appear years later. They can cause severe problems in relationships and careers and even interfere with daily tasks like eating, sleeping, or concentrating. More specifically, symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Avoidance of people, places, or things
- Being easily startled
- Difficulty focusing
- Emotional numbness
- Intrusive thoughts
- Memory problems
- Negative self-reflection
- Relationship problems
- Self-destructive behavior
- Severe emotional distress
This list of symptoms is not comprehensive. Everyone copes with the emotional strain of a traumatic event differently, and the symptoms of PTSD are unique to the individual. If you have PTSD, it’s critically important that you seek professional medical help.
How Sleep and PTSD Affect Each Other
Sleep is vital to our well-being, but for people with PTSD, achieving quality rest can be exponentially difficult due to the disorder. According to a study published in the National Institutes of Health, 70 to 91 percent of patients with PTSD have trouble falling or staying asleep. Additionally, 19 to 71 percent of participants reported suffering from nightmares.
According to a study of veterans published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, nightmares and insomnia are hallmark symptoms of PTSD. The study’s author, psychiatrist Saskia van Liempt, found that disturbed sleep from nightmares increases the risk of PTSD. In turn, PTSD leads to fragmented sleep cycles, which can perpetuate PTSD symptoms, and ultimately create a perpetual circle of insomnia and PTSD.
Saskia van Liempt notes, “The restoration of sleep in patients with PTSD may improve sleep-dependent neuroplasticity and stimulate recovery.” Essentially, it’s imperative to break the bad sleep/PTSD cycle to cope with and treat the disorder.
Why Do People With PTSD Struggle to Sleep?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, difficulty sleeping and nightmares are two well-known symptoms of PTSD. The reasons for fragmented sleep can include:
- A feeling of needing to be alert for danger continually
- Being worried or having negative thoughts
- Chronic pain or other medical problems
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope.
Who is More Likely to Develop PTSD?
Although it was previously referred to as “shell shock” after World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II, PTSD isn’t limited to combat veterans. People of all ages, genders, and ethnicities can experience PTSD. That being said, women are twice as likely as men to have the condition. This fact is essential to consider, seeing as women are already more susceptible to sleep problems than men.
It’s important to note that not everyone who lives through a traumatic event develops PTSD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), persons who become injured during the incident or see another person get hurt are more likely to get the disorder. Losing one’s home or livelihood or other stressors, in addition to the original trauma, also raises the likelihood of getting PTSD. Conversely, the NIMH says, if a person receives support from family, friends, or a support group, they may be less likely to develop PTSD.
While it can feel like you’re alone in this battle, know that many others are contending with this condition. About one in 11 U.S. adults will be diagnosed with PTSD in his or her lifetime..
Seek Assistance for PTSD Sleeplessness
Fortunately, there is hope for those who’ve lived through a horrifying event and have trouble sleeping. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD says the best way to address the disorder is cognitive behavioral treatment for insomnia (CB-I). According to the center, 53 percent of people who get trauma-focused psychotherapy no longer fit the criteria for PTSD. Similarly, 42 percent of people who take medication for the disorder found relief.
Help Yourself Get the Rest You Need
See your doctor or medical health professional to learn how to work through PTSD and get the sleep you need. Along with professional medical assistance, sleep therapy can also provide relief. If you’re looking for a product that makes it easy and comfortable to listen to music or white noise in bed, try AcousticSheep LLC’s SleepPhones® headphones.
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