How Sleep Impacts PTSD

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


State of Sleep™: Updates on Sleep & Public Policy


Discover the link between sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder, and learn what you can do to finally get some rest.

If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. Experiencing difficulty falling or staying asleep is one of the most common symptoms of the disorder. Case in point: Half of all vets with PTSD have issues falling asleep compared with only 13 percent without the disorder, and nine out of 10 vets with PTSD have trouble staying asleep at night.

Why PTSD Throws Off Sleep

The PTSD-insomnia link may stem from the nightmares that often go along with the disorder, arousing sufferers so much that they wake up and/or become anxious about going to bed. Another theory is that people who have experienced trauma feel that they must be on hyper-alert to stay safe (especially soldiers who have been taught to be constantly watchful);—and when they’re sleeping, they can’t protect themselves from danger. PTSD is also tied to chronic pain, depression, and other medical conditions that might hinder sleep.

What You Can Do

If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD and are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to pinpoint the root of the issue. For example, a doctor could prescribe alternatives to medications that may be interfering with your sleep, such as those used to treat panic attacks or depression. Or your doc may be able to refer you to a mental health expert, who can use techniques such as hypnosis to help. Nightmares can often be treated with Image Reversal Therapy (IRT), where you rewrite the script to your most common nightmares by adding a happy ending, and then read your new version before you go to bed each night. Melatonin may also help reset your body clock if yours is thrown off by years of military shift work.