Rolling back and forth continually trying to find that sweet spot? Sitting for hours and still unable to fall asleep? How about when you finally do fall asleep, do you wake up frequently or wake easily to sounds or movement? It is common for people with PTSD to have trouble with sleep and it is associated with the hyper-arousal symptom of PTSD. I have some good news though! There are quite a few things that you can do about it WITHOUT medicating yourself! Here are a few helpful things you can do
1. Schedule your sleep by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.
2. Cut back on the caffeine and nicotine, don’t drink any caffeine after lunch and don’t smoke before you go to bed
3. Exercise! Tire yourself out, but it is not advised to exercise within 6 hours of when you plan to sleep.
4. No more naps, keep those droopy lids open until you flop down onto your bed at the END of the day.
5. No more drinking yourself to sleep, I know, kill joy right? One, you don’t want to go down that road and become dependent on it. Two, you shouldn’t drink any alcohol within six hours of your bed time.
6. Get comfy, make sure your room is at a good temperature, and make the bedroom a relaxing place.
7. Stop doing all your life activities in your room. No more eating, watching t.v., playing video games, going on the computer, talking on the phone, or whatever else you do in there besides sleeping. You bedroom should be associated with sleep, not all other activities.
8. Block out the world by using noise machines, an eye mask, or ear plugs. You can even download a sleep machine app on your phone or iPad that works very well with a variety of soothing sounds you can combine. I use the app and I love it.
9. Avoid late night heavy meals, that’s right, no more midnight snacking. At the same time, don’t go to bed hungry, it is just ill-advised to chow down through 4 burritos and half a cheesecake before you sleep, however delicious it may be.
10. It is common for people to worry when they go to bed at night, try practicing mindfulness of thoughts to banish those worries from your brain.
11. You will never be able to force yourself to go to sleep so stop trying. If you can’t sleep after 20-30 minutes get out of bed and do some relaxing activities. Read a book, drink some sleepy time tea, meditate, whatever floats your boat, just make sure to not return to bed until you feel drowsy.
12. Find a way to express and process your unpleasant thoughts and emotions. If you are not adequately coping with your stress it can have an impact on your sleep. Try journaling and getting all of the excess banter in your head down on paper. This is one of my personal favorites, before going to bed as part of my preparations I like to journal- no matter what kind of angry or weird or out-of-this-world thoughts are in my mind I can put it all down on paper and get it out of my head. Good, bad, or otherwise, you can say whatever you want in your own journal, or draw, or angry scribble across the pages, its your journal and you can do whatever you want. You can also seek out social support, the main point is to reduce and limit the stress that you carry into your sleep.
You need sleep in order to stay in good psychological and physical health, especially for any person struggling with PTSD. Try these methods out, find what works for you. I have suffered through insomnia for years and after hallucinating on medications or having them make me feel like hammered sh!@ on a hot sidewalk when I woke up I decided to try improving my sleep hygiene. Going through these steps greatly helped my sleep, so don’t give up the good fight! Sleep is but a few steps away, you just need to actually do them.