Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur if you go through a traumatic event that seems to keep haunting you later. Soldiers in combat can experience PTSD, so do victims of abuse and terrorism and those who have suffered through serious accidents or disasters. What’s more, you can develop PTSD after having a serious medical event like a heart attack.
PTSD can leave you feeling afraid for your life or fearing for others’ lives. You may feel like you have lost control of your life. One of the ways that PTSD shows up is through the process of sleep. Sudden problems with getting to sleep or staying asleep can take root, and often, people with PTSD often have terrible nightmares that replay the episodes of their trauma repeatedly. Without quality sleep, both physical health and mental health problems like PTSD can only get worse.
Doctors have long wondered about the relationship between sleep health, heart health and PTSD. The National Sleep Foundation recently reported on studies from Columbia University Medical Center. They examined how common it was for heart attack victims to suffer from symptoms of PTSD afterward. They found that 1 in 8 survivors of heart attacks do indeed suffer from PTSD; their risk for having another cardiac event, or even dying within 3 years after the vent, doubled when compared to survivors of heart attacks who did not develop PTSD.
A separate study at Columbia’s Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health supports this finding and even suggests that poor sleep may be to blame for those who suffer from PTSD after a heart attack.
It’s fairly simple: the worse symptoms the PTSD sufferers had, the worse their own reports of sleep quality following the heart attack. Sleep quality, in this case, means shorter sleep time, more disturbances while asleep, the need for sleep aids to achieve sleep, and poor daytime work performance due to poor overall sleep quality the night before.
Interestingly, the study showed that the most likely people to suffer from poor sleep following a heart attack are women, obese patients and those with depression.
Doctors are now theorizing that it is not enough to say that PTSD causes poor sleep, or that poor sleep worsens PTSD. Both disrupted sleep and PTSD have nervous system problems in common which need to be addressed. They believe, instead, that these are two underlying conditions, following major cardiac events, must be treated simultaneously.
Further research is needed, but here’s the bottom line: If you or a loved one have had a heart attack and develop PTSD afterward, a mindful approach to reclaiming quality sleep could be a real lifesaver in the long term.