People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can experience continued psychological mayhem even while asleep. It can lead to anxiety, confusion, terror, even unintended violence to or by the sufferer.
Often forgotten in this are the loved ones who are the sleep partners of PTSD patients. They have additional challenges because they have to deal with safety issues, for both their loved one and themselves, every night.
The main thing that loved ones can do to help make nighttime sleep safer and sounder for everyone is to support the following sleep hygiene basics, which can really help the PTSD sufferer achieve more peaceful sleep. They include:
- Using the bedroom only for sleeping and sex. This means removing media from the room so as not to bring in stimulus-producing sources.
- Soundproofing your bedroom, or if you can’t soundproof it, use white noise machines to help keep out external noise. If nothing else, encourage the use of earplugs.
- Keeping your bedroom dark in order to facilitate smooth transitions between sleep. Even nightlights and the tiny lights on electronics devices can interrupt sleep. Eye masks make good options.
- Turning down your thermostat. It is much better to have a cool room with multiple blankets that can be added and removed. Having too warm a room can mess with circadian rhythms.
- Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and make sure everyone in the household can honor it.
- Avoiding stressful, energizing or stimulating activities before bed so that the body can properly relax when it needs to.
- Encouraging relaxing bedtime activities like warm baths, soft music, herbal tea or light reading to aid the brain in calming down for the night.
- Practicing meditation and/or yogic breathing to help induce relaxation.
- Writing down worries and anxieties in a diary before bed so that your brain can “let them go” until the morning.
- Avoiding stimulating foods containing caffeine before bedtime (chocolate, cocoa, tea, coffee, soda)
- Avoiding alcohol at bedtime; despite its ability to relax the body, alcohol alters sleep architecture and can compromise quality deep sleep.
- Avoiding nicotine at bedtime as it can both stimulate and relax the brain.
- Asking your doctor and pharmacist to review your prescriptions to determine if any of them, by themselves or in interaction with others, may have a negative impact on sleep.
Following these instructions may be difficult for some PTSD sufferers, so support for them from their loved ones and sleep mates really makes a difference. Any or all of these suggestions may not only improve the sleeping experience for the PTSD sufferer but for their sleep partners as well.
Information for this post was compiled from the Sleep and PTSD page at the National Center for PSTD, US Department of Veterans Affairs website.