Sleep Care

PTSD and Sleep

Traumatic events by nature are often severe and distressing leaving many people with symptoms of frustration, anger, irritability, fear, panic attacks, sadness, depression and more. For some people, recovering from a traumatic event is difficult and can manifest itself in their lives as post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

As a result, they often re-live the trauma through thoughts, memories and dreams. They also may avoid people, places or situations that remind them of the trauma. And finally, they often experience increased arousal which can include displaying excessive emotions, startling easily and having sleep issues.

PTSD, once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, is a serious condition that develops after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. The most common sufferers of PTSD are abuse victims, war veterans, emergency personnel and survivors of war or terrorism. In fact, about 5.2 million people suffer from PTSD in a year and an estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives according to recent article by WebMD.

Sufferers of PTSD often complain of sleep issues. In fact, it is one of the most commonly reported problems for people diagnosed with the condition. For instance, sleep complaints were reported by 92.5 percent of soldiers with PTSD in a study conducted by the American College of Chest Physicians. Additionally, many of the soldiers experienced sleep fragmentation and 61 percent had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Typically people with PTSD often have difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep.

Difficulty falling asleep

When someone experiences a trauma, their body changes biologically. This often results in a state of hyper-arousal or watchfulness, which makes it difficult for them to fall asleep. They also may have medical conditions that accompany PTSD including chronic pain, headaches and stomach or intestinal problems. PTSD patients also may have intrusive thoughts that make it difficult for them to sleep.

Difficulty staying asleep

Nightmares are typical for people with PTSD. Many times, these dreams are about the trauma or some aspect of it. They also can experience night terrors which can include bouts of screaming or shaking while asleep. To an observer, the person appears awake but unresponsive. PTSD patients also may thrash about during sleep and may experience anxiety or panic attacks that disrupt sleep. Finally, many people with PTSD never reach a deep sleep. Hearing the slightest noise will often cause them to wake up and check for safety.


Addressing these sleep issues and their underlying cause is important because poor sleep can lead to a host of other health problems. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, depression, memory-loss, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can be a contributing factor in the stress and mood

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problems people with PTSD experience, a cycle that requires the intervention of a medical professional.

Counseling and support groups are often recommended for those suffering from PTSD. Sharing the experience and the associated fear or grief has shown to be a cathartic exercise that reduces the symptoms of PTSD. In cases where a sleeping disorder such as OSA, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, is causing or worsening the symptoms of PTSD the sufferer may need to seek treatment from a sleep specialist. Often times it is best for people with PTSD to receive a combination of counseling and medical care for their sleep issues.

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