Today’s PTSD symptom: Insomnia

  • You avoid going to bed because you’re afraid you won’t fall asleep.
  • You’re afraid to go to sleep because you might have a nightmare.
  • You feel exhausted, but you can’t fall asleep.
  • You wake up at 1:00 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep.
  • When you wake up, you start working or maybe have a drink or two, just to get you through until the sun comes up.

Many people have trouble sleeping, but insomnia especially plagues people with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Losing sleep can compound other symptoms, too, because when you’re tired, you’re vulnerable, easily irritated, and less able to function at your normal capacity.

When insomnia begins to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, disrupts your relationships with others, or compounds the negativity in your life, try these strategies:

  1. Rule out medical causes. Allergies, restless legs syndrome, and other medical conditions can disrupt your sleep. In fact, trauma survivors as a group have a higher occurrence of sleep apnea and difficulty breathing at night.
  2. Follow common guidelines for sleeping well, including relaxing in the evening, avoiding caffeine, trying not to nap in the daytime, and going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
  3. If you wake up in the night, do something relaxing such as read a book, pray, meditate, listen to soothing music. Write in your journal. When you feel tired, go back to bed.
  4. Ask your doctor if you can try a medication to help you sleep.
  5. In your counseling sessions, discuss why you’re not sleeping well. Is the trauma still too real for you? Do you have trauma (usually from childhood) that hasn’t been resolved?

From my own perspective, I’ve had difficulty sleeping since college days. I believe the hidden memories from my childhood were at the root of the problem. Things got worse as I got older, had children, and started running into family difficulties.

Now I take three medications that help me sleep: pramipexole for restless legs syndrome; prazosin to prevent nightmares; and trazodone, a type of antidepressant. It may sound like a lot of medication if you rarely use prescription drugs. But I’m thankful for each medication I take because I’m finally sleeping through the night.

What have you tried? What works and doesn’t work for you? Any comments or advice? I’d love to hear from you.

Sydney Segen