At the end of a stressful day, sleeping can help us recharge and feel refreshed. Sleep accounts for a significant portion of our days and throughout our lifetimes. Maintaining sufficient amounts of sleep is important because it allows us to remain functional and able to complete our everyday tasks. Whether it be preparing for a big event, taking an exam, or just destressing, sleep is an essential part of helping us remain alert and healthy. Disruptions to our circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep, can have harmful effects on our overall function. Such disruptions can be connected to our overall mental health, which has a significant impact on our everyday function. After experiencing a traumatic event, many will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which leads to many sleep disturbances or disruptions. The relationship between PTSD and sleep is intricate and should not be overlooked. Understanding this relationship is the first step in relieving or improving sleep quality in affected individuals.
Following a traumatic event, sleep disruptions may be one of the first symptoms of PTSD (Pacheco, 2022). According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep disruptions can be defined as nightmares, insomnia, and fragmented rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Not receiving proper and consistent sleep will affect function during the daytime as well. Because functionality is directly linked to quality of sleep, it is observed that issues in sleep intensify other symptoms of PTSD (Pacheco, 2022). Sleep essentially delays the recovery process in those with PTSD. Worsening symptoms can prompt people with PTSD to other issues such as alcoholism or substance abuse. In an attempt to relieve symptoms with alcohol or substances, people with PTSD will actually worsen their symptoms even more (Pacheco, 2022). Managing sleep, especially when dealing with other factors such as PTSD, is important in recovery and function.
Our body’s natural circadian rhythm is a 24-hour system that manages functionality by secreting certain hormones, while also responding to changes in light. Melatonin levels, which make us drowsy and tired, are produced at night in response to less light (Korn, 2015). According to Psychology Today, PTSD is directly defined by an imbalance in the circadian rhythm. This observation is supported because those with PTSD are affected by sleep disruptions, thus further shifting the circadian rhythm. Common causes of insomnia in those affected by PTSD are nightmares or night terrors (Hayes et al., 2021). Treatment of sleep disturbances can help relieve symptoms of PTSD. For example, insomnia can be improved by reinforcing feeling safe throughout the night. Sleeping with a dimmed light and playing relaxing music are some non-pharmaceutical ways to relieve insomnia (Hayes et al., 2021).
The importance of sleep is not to be underestimated or downplayed. PTSD is a disorder that must be treated appropriately in order to alleviate symptoms that may disrupt function in everyday life. Recovery starts by receiving proper sleep, which allows for rest and relaxation. People affected by PTSD may find focusing on the feeling of safety and security helps improve sleep disruptions. Focusing on improving our sleep quality is the first step to improving other areas of our lives. We must remember to care for our basic needs before prioritizing anything else.
Hayes, J. P., VanElzakker, M. B., & Shin, L. M. (2021, November 24). Disturbed Sleep in PTSD: Thinking Beyond Nightmares. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.767760/full
Korn, L. (2015, September 26). Circadian Rhythm, Light and PTSD. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rhythms-recovery/201509/circadian-rhythm-light-and-ptsd
Pacheco, D. (2022, March 11). How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affects Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/ptsd-and-sleep