Sleep and PTSD: 5 ways to overcome the challenge

Difficulty sleeping is one of the most common PTSD symptoms, and it can make life miserable if you let it

By Rachel Engel

Getting a quality night’s sleep is important for the body and mind; it resets and refreshes you for the next day.

However, for those diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, falling asleep and staying asleep can be difficult. Not only can nighttime bring out anxiety and fears not fully felt during the day, but dreams and thoughts can prevent you from getting the deep, restful sleep you need.

In Military1’s exclusive PTSD screening quiz, an average of 75 percent of respondents said they had “trouble sleeping, which could include difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, restless sleep or recurring nightmares.”

While not fool-proof, these tips can help you break out of a bad-sleep routine and get better quality sleep on a consistent basis.


1. Adhere to a routine and sleep schedule

Mothers are often given the advice to put their newborns on a sleeping schedule and routine to help the babies understand it’s time for their brain to wind down and relax. The same can be applied to those diagnosed with PTSD.

Since many people with PTSD feel “on alert,” particularly at night, creating a bedtime routine can provide the brain a way to understand what is happening through repetition. For example, eating dinner at the same time, taking a hot shower, reading a chapter of a book and then turning out the lights is a routine that could be followed. After a week or two, once you finish dinner and hop in the shower, your brain is in “wind down mode,” because it knows what’s coming next: a book and bed.

Figure out what kind of routine works for you, and mold it to fit your lifestyle.

2. Be mindful of your daily activities

Sometimes it’s not about what you do right before going to bed, but what you were doing and when in the hours leading up to it.

  • Exercise early in the day, no closer than two hours to bedtime.
  • Spend time outdoors, as sunlight can help regulate your body’s sleep and wake cycles
  • Only take naps early in the day
  • Cut out caffeinated beverages and foods, such as coffee, chocolate, soda or tea when it’s getting close to bedtime

(Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

3. Optimize your sleeping area

Do you prefer the room cold or warm? One blanket? Four pillows? Do you like to listen to the hum of the fan, or use a sleep mask? Make sure all the elements of a restful night’s sleep for you are present in your sleeping area before bedtime each night.

When traveling, having the things that make you comfortable at home will do the same on the road.

4. Stop trying

Sometimes you toss and turn until you know there’s no point. If so, go ahead and get up. There’s no use lying there getting annoyed at your lack of sleep. Take a warm shower to relax your body and reset your mind.

Then do something quiet that encourages sleepiness, like reading. Try not to turn on the television, or look at your phone, computer or tablet, as screens and the abundance of information can encourage you to keep browsing, instead of helping your brain to wind down.

5. Talk to your doctor

When all else fails, seek medical help. A good night’s sleep is not only important for your body, but for your mind, and when you go several weeks without quality sleep, it will mentally take a toll on you.

Your doctor can help you understand why you are having such trouble sleeping and offer more solutions, like meditation, therapy or prescription drugs.

Don’t let PTSD prevent you from enjoying a good date with your pillow.