“The nightmares were the hardest part because they were recurring. I didn’t sleep well – I’d sleep an hour and a half, two hours at a time…it was kicking my butt. I was working at the time and I was tired all the time going into work…”
For U.S. Army Veteran (1980-2008) Kevin Cottrell, PTSD came with sleep problems that made it difficult for him to do his job.
Cottrell’s experience is common. Many who are diagnosed with PTSD also have sleep problems. And when sleep problems last, they can have a negative impact on many parts of your life. The good news is, treatment can help!
Kevin shares in the National Center for PTSD’s AboutFace video that getting treatment for PTSD helped him turn his life around: “After I’ve received therapy, it’s getting better, slowly but surely.”
Recognize Sleep Concerns
Ask yourself the following questions: Have I had difficulty sleeping (getting to sleep, staying asleep, waking up too early) several nights a week for several months? Do I feel sluggish or have low energy? Have I noticed changes in my concentration or mood?
Do I dread the idea of trying to sleep, instead of looking forward to it? Have I woken up gasping for air? If you answered yes to any of the questions, then talk with your provider about getting a sleep assessment and discuss sleep treatment options.
If you have PTSD and sleep problems, ask your provider about evidence-based treatment options. Treating your PTSD can help improve your sleep problems. If your sleep problems continue after you complete a front-line treatment for PTSD, talk to your provider about options for sleep-related treatments.
If you have been diagnosed with insomnia, consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is a talk therapy that is the most effective treatment for insomnia. CBT-I does not require medication either.
For people who are doing CBT-I, the National Center for PTSD has a free treatment companion mobile app, CBT-I Coach. Also, VA has a free Veteran online training called Path to Better Sleep to help address insomnia symptoms.
Manage Sleep Difficulties
Treatment is the best option if you have lasting sleep problems. But these tips can also help temporarily:
- Have a 30-minute wind-down time before bed.
- Go to bed when sleepy.
- Get out of bed if you find yourself “trying” to sleep. Engage in a relaxation activity until you feel sleepy and then go back into bed.
- Have a consistent wake time.
- Make your bed and sleeping environment comfortable.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs before bed.
- Limit your caffeine use.
Visit the National Center for PTSD’s website to learn more about the relationship between PTSD and sleep problems.
Elissa McCarthy, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and PTSD Consultation Program Consultant with the National Center for PTSD