Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Insomnia

For people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), dealing with the array of symptoms can be debilitating enough when awake but compounding the problem is the symptom of insomnia.

This leaves sufferers struggling almost consistently throughout the day and the night, as they desperately attempt to obtain a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep then compounds daytime symptoms, leading to a difficult cycle. Sleep disturbances can also be a long-lasting aspect of PTSD, which means the quest for effective treatment becomes more important than ever.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is considered an anxiety disorder. It usually occurs following a major life event such as experiencing a terrifying physical assault. Other examples of events that may cause PTSD are:

  • Car accident
  • Military combat
  • Natural disaster

A person may have experienced an event firsthand, such as a personal assault, or they may have been witness to an event that harmed another person – a loved one or even a stranger.

What Kinds of Symptoms Will I Experience?

Symptoms usually tend to begin within a few months of the event but they can still commence years later. For a doctor to diagnose PTSD, symptoms should usually have been occurring for a month or longer. A diagnosis of PTSD will likely occur after a case history shows a traumatic event, coupled with symptoms of:

  • Frequent frightening thoughts of the event
  • Easily startled
  • Numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Insomnia

The last symptom, insomnia can be a particularly difficult aspect of PTSD to address on its own. If a person is plagued with disturbed thoughts and distress when awake, it can be difficult to relax and calm the mind enough to slip into sleep. Sufferers of PTSD may find that they are having trouble falling asleep and that when they finally do, they wake up frequently – sometimes even from nightmares of the traumatic event.

Treating PTSD and Insomnia

The first measure to take – as with many conditions – is to see a doctor for accurate diagnosis. Once you have been diagnosed with PTSD, there are several options for treatment. Your doctor will probably recommend a mental health practitioner to provide support and guidance.

Generally, the cognitive-behavioural counselling approach is one that is widely accepted and promoted in the medical industry. Your doctor may provide a referral or you may have a recommendation from a friend or family member. Either way, it’s important to make an appointment as soon as possible, which will allow treatment to begin soon after.

The key is to address the underlying aspects of your PTSD, which will help to treat all of your emotional and mental symptoms, thereby helping you to relax and sleep better at night.

Your doctor may still prescribe medications as part of your treatment. Antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are approved for the treatment of PTSD and can make a difference in easing symptoms and helping you to sleep.

Helpful Alternative Methods

You may find that relaxation techniques such as tapes or affirmations are helpful to perform prior to bedtime. Massage therapy, meditation and similar techniques to promote muscle relaxation can help you to ease tension and stress just before going to sleep.

Self-help groups also prove helpful for many people. They allow a person to share their fears and difficulties regarding the traumatic event with others who are experiencing similar symptoms. This feeling of acceptance and identification with others can promote better healing of PTSD symptoms and in turn, may help you to sleep better.

It’s also important to avoid caffeine and other stimulants if possible. Not only will they keep you awake, but they can increase the anxiety you are experiencing and leave you shaking and with racing thoughts.

Also, don’t forget to obtain support from family and friends if you can. Talk to them about your troubles with PTSD and insomnia. Sometimes, a listening ear and support from someone close to you can help to ease the tension and anxiety of PTSD, allowing you to feel calmer and obtain a better night’s sleep.

Above all, remember that you are not alone in your struggle with PTSD and insomnia. The medical community still does not know exactly why some people develop PTSD after a traumatic event while others seem to manage the trauma and move forward more easily.

The symptoms can be mild in some individuals and quite severe in others, which can make insomnia very challenging to treat if you are one of the severe sufferers. By resolving to see a doctor for treatment, however, you are taking an important first step in addressing PTSD and insomnia.