Sleep and Trauma

In my office, it is not unusual to learn that a person’s sleep difficulties started with a trauma or bad experience.  For many people, the trauma they experienced was years (or decades) ago, and still affects their sleep.   These sleep difficulties can take the form of insomnia, nightmares or excessive daytime sleepiness.   Although this can be a hard topic to discuss, it is something to be aware of.

It is thought that brain chemistry can be altered, creating a hyperalert state.  People can also become very vigilant, staying on-guard even during sleep time.

As a naturopathic physician, here are some of my thoughts when working with someone who has sleep changes after a trauma:

  • Biochemically, I think about the 24 hour cortisol rhythm.  Cortisol should be high in the morning, and decrease over the day. (For more complete discussion, see my blogpost on cortisol). 
  • I also think about changes in neurotransmitter levels that may have occurred. 
  • Current safety, creating a sleep space that feels (and is) secure.
  • Stress reduction throughout the day to reduce sympathetic activation.  This can be in the form of a 2-3 minute break every 2 hours to do some deep breathing.
  • Unravel negative sleep associations with the bed, bedroom and bedtime.
  • And the use of other Cognitive-Behavioral techniques for insomnia.
  • Referral to a mental health professional to address trauma.

This blogpost just scratches the surface of this important topic.  You can learn more about sleep and trauma on The National Sleep Foundation website http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/trauma-and-sleep.   They include tips for people who are suffering from temporary sleep disturbance.

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