Trauma and Sleep

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Stress from a traumatic event can often lead to a variety of sleep problems. When the body is overstimulated, the brain is flooded with neurochemicals that keep us awake, such as epinephrine and adrenaline, making it difficult to wind down at the end of the day. The neurochemicals remain present in the brain and can interrupt your normal sleep cycle. The result can be insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue caused by sleep disturbance.

The following are common sleep problems following a trauma:

  • Flashbacks and troubling thoughts can make falling asleep difficult.
  • The victim might feel the need to maintain a high level of vigilance, which can make sleep difficult.
  • For those who experience violent situations, nighttime and darkness can, in and of themselves, bring about added anxiety and restlessness.
  • Taking naps during the day might be helpful, but, if overdone, can also interfere with your efforts to sleep through the night.
  • Once asleep, nightmares can frighten a survivor back to consciousness, and getting back to sleep can be very difficult.
  • Many survivors use alcohol or other drugs to numb the emotional and physical pain following trauma. These substances can not only impact the healing process, they can also exacerbate sleep problems.

Some people with sleep problems and anxiety have posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic stressful event resulting in a feeling of a loss of control and an inability to help yourself in a bad situation. It’s often experienced by people who are in situations that range from combat to rape, but it can be caused by a variety of events.


For those who are experiencing temporary sleep problems, there are a number of recommendations for dealing with insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue. Sleep experts recommend trying to reduce feelings of stress, especially before bedtime. Don’t watch the news right before going to bed. Avoid coffee in the afternoon and evening. Take a warm bath or soak in a hot tub before bedtime. If sleep problems persist, see your doctor, who can prescribe medications that will help you sleep but won’t

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