Ask a person with PTSD about their sleep and you will get anything from “It’s great, I actually got 4 hours of sleep” to “Shut the hell up.”  Sleep is not kind for this is where your mind can be very unruly and bring up the past with videos with new additions or a constant loop of the same nightmare over and over and over and over.  I am always looking up things to find new information on sleep.  Most is not new.  I actually read a book on sleep (no, I don’t remember the title, sorry) that talked about sleep studies and how they ended their sleep study after only 4 weeks of less than 4 hours of sleep a night.  The scientist felt it was too dangerous to continue the study with so little sleep for so long.  I was so disappointed.  Where their sleep study ended was where my sleep habits began.  I was asked by my doctor what time I went to bed, about 11PM, and what time do I get up, around 6 AM, and the doctor agreed that I was doing fine on sleep.  My counselor asked me a different question, “How much of your time in bed do you actually sleep?”  Here’s a myth buster for you.  Laying with your eyes closed is not sleep.  Your brain actually changes pattern in brain waves when you go to sleep.  You can’t fake sleep.  The brain knows.  At the time, I started a sleep log for 10 weeks.  I averaged 3 hours of sleep a night.  Never more than 5 hours of sleep and hardly ever all of it in one chunk.  This is serious sleep deprivation.  Everyone needs sleep.

The VA has a page on sleep:

Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Use curtains or blinds to block out light. Consider using soothing music or a “white noise” machine to block out noise.


This recipe for a good night sleep according to the VA would just about guarantee very freaky nightmares for me.  The white noise idea actually has some merit and I’m doing a few experiments with this.  Bottom line a dark, quiet room is about the worst environment I can sleep in.  In all the research I have looked up it either suggests the above environment or medication as to solutions available. I have a few more things that may or may not work.  Some suggestions are not conducive to sleeping with someone else.  Some of these experiments may need to be done with either the consent of your sleeping partner or in another room.  If anyone has other suggestions I would love to grow this list.  No where on the sleep pages that I have read does it have suggestions like the ones I’m about to give.  This information will be posted under Coping.


Sleep log – First suggestion, keep a sleep log for a few weeks.  Write down when you go to bed. When you think you went to sleep or the last time you looked at the clock.  How many times you woke up and how long it took to go back to sleep.  When you finally got up for the day.  Also record any naps you have during the day.

You notice I didn’t mention anything about nightmares or dreams or anything else.  This log is to only track your sleep.  It is a good idea to see how much or little sleep you are getting in the first place.  Kind of a surveying the damage log.


“Sleep is a weapon!”
Robert Ludlum Bourne Identity author

Here is a list I created so far. Some work for me, some do not. Choose and experiment at your own risk. Remember if you sleep with someone else, let them know what you are planning to try.

TV ON – yup, I know people that can only sleep with the TV turned on full rip.  Late night talk shows can really put some people blissfully to sleep.

Music turned on – low or cranked depending on what works – Which music you choose can make a difference.  Some is soothing, however some causes anxiety while sleeping, nighttime music may be quite different from day time music.  Crickets with ocean music rose rapidly on my hate list.  I didn’t know until I tried that I hate the sound of crickets.


I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know? – Ernest Hemingway


Overhead light on – Flood the room with light, doesn’t do much for producing you own natural serotonin but it can work wonders at relaxing enough to sleep.  This helps because when I wake up from a nightmare I can see where I am and more likely to go back to sleep quickly.

Nightlight – These small lights can make a difference for many sleepless people.  Some are less than 1/3 of a watt and cost less than a few dollars.  Strategically placed they cause a minimum of disruption for anyone else sleeping in the same room.

Glow-in-the-dark Stars – This was new to me when I slept in a room with them while on vacation.  No electricity what so ever.  The stars were stuck on the ceiling.  By the time their glowing dimmed the sun was coming up.

Aroma therapy – Essential oils were used anciently and today for healing purposes.  However, essential oils are very personal.  What works for one person may or may not work for someone else.  Some oils are very strong and need to be diffused in the air or mixed with coconut oil or some other natural agent to make it comfortable to use.  Again this is an area that try what you think might work and record the combinations that seem to induce sleep or staying asleep.  A dab of essential oil on a stuffed animal and cuddled in bed is one way to breathe in oils.

Stuffies – Stuff animals, toys, teddy bears whatever childhood pleasant memory you might have or buy one.  (Yes, I own a stuffed minion after Despicable Me movies became popular, sits by my computer.) Sometimes throwing away a stuff animal that trigger bad memories, helps sleeping at night.  Just because you had it since you were a child doesn’t make it a ‘good’ sleep aide.


Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
Thomas Dekker


Change rooms – This one I tumbled on by accident.  I wanted to sleep with a light on and my husband couldn’t sleep with a light on, so I changed rooms.  The change of rooms actually helped. Surprised me.

Sleep on a couch – Many jokes are attached with being punished by sleeping on the couch.  For me on super ugly nights, it works.  The cushions are against my back, I can face outward and keep the light on or off.  Sometimes just the move to the couch is enough to put me to sleep.

Recliners – Recliners are another substitute to beds when PTSD triggers are attached to a bed.  Buying a new bed is another similar possibility.  Recliners can also be helpful with sleep apnea and heart burn.  Sleep is the highest importance and if sleeping sitting up instead of laying down works then sleep sitting up.

Piles of pillows – Two or three bed pillows can turn a regular bed into a sort of recliner.  This will sometimes take pressure off my chest and ease feelings of distress almost as well as a recliner.


When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’
Steven Wright


Under covers – I read about some survivors that prefer to sleep under covers including their heads.  I can’t stand to have my head cover but I feel more comfortable going to sleep with covers on than off.

On top of covers – For some people, under covers has a tied down or suffocating feeling.  Use heating or cooling or clothes to have your body at a comfortable temperature to sleep on top of the bed covers.  If sleeping with a partner, they may want covers for their half of the bed.


Sometimes I’m so tired, I look down at what I’m wearing, and if it’s comfortable enough to sleep in, I don’t even make it into my pajamas. I’m looking down, and I’m like, ‘T-shirt and stretchy pants? Yup, that’s fine. It’s pajama-y, good night.’
Rebecca Romijn


Clothes – believe it or not, what you wear to bed can have an impact with how well you sleep.  Try different clothes or no clothes to see what works best.  I found that night gowns can cause distress but pajamas don’t.  Try loose clothes verses tighter fitting clothes to see if that makes any difference while sleeping.

Yoga/breathing – I know yoga practitioners use different exercises, meditation or breathing to prepare their bodies to go to sleep.  Using these three words I ended up with a whole list of websites that show you different techniques: yoga breathing sleep


Sleep is the best meditation.
Dalai Lama


Sleeping with someone or alone – Some people enjoy cuddling and feel more secure sleeping with someone.  Some people need to sleep alone.  Couples need to discuss pros and cons of each.  On difficult nights, I often send myself to sleep on the couch so my husband can get some sleep.  My thrashing back and forth just before waking up from a nightmare can be very disturbing to him.  Communication with my spouse is essential to let him know that my trouble sleeping is not about him.

Pets – Another living creature, cat, dog, horse, to name a few, can work as therapy when caring for them.  Even plants can show a benefit to survivors.

PTSD Dog –  This information came to me more recently.  PTSD dogs are being trained to help people with PTSD while sleeping.  One of the dogs duties is to wake up their owner when nightmares take over their sleep.  Some dogs do this without training.  We had a German Shepherd that seemed to know when to wake me up.  A real blessing to me for many years.  Most PTSD dogs are specifically trained for vets.


My research will continue.  As I find more information or other things that work I will add them to the web page.

7 thoughts on “Sleep

  1. Pingback: Waking up | PTSD - Accepting, Coping, Thriving

  2. Some great ideas, Ruth and yes, I had to fiddle for awhile as well. I find staying in bed when I can’t slow my brain down, I hurt or I’m having a “nightmare night” I’m better off to get out of my BR, wander around the house a bit and go lay on the couch and read. (Part of my waking is also related to physical pain so I need to move around.) I know my house so well I don’t have to turn on lights. If friends are staying over I have night lights and low watt lamps I turn on for them in case they need to find their way around. Also when it’s cold (I always have a window in my BR cracked, even in the coldest weather-I’m a Fresh Air Freak!) an electric blanket or a heated mattress pad which I use to “pre-heat” the bed helps a lot in terms of getting my muscles to relax as well as doing gentle stretching exercises when I actually get in bed.<I also stumbled on those by accident. I can think I'm relaxed, but those muscles don't lie!

    I found before I even think about going to bed, I need to let my mind "know" we're closing down shop for the day. Getting ready for evening/bed I have the same routine every night. About 1-1.5 hrs. before "bedtime" I wipe down all the counters in the kitchen (I can't stand getting up to a messy kitchen anyway), get the coffee ready to be plugged in for the AM (I'm too ditzy in the AM to trust myself to make decent coffee!), bring out the trash, wash up and then go plop on the couch and read-a book, a magazine, anything but electronics and no reading material that requires a great deal of concentration or upsetting stuff. There's a great Blues and Jazz program I listen to every night as well-it's on from 8-10 PM. Generally, I'm sleepy by then.

    Sometimes no matter what I do, it's just a crummy night. If I have a run of "those kinds of nights" I do use meds. I've found sedative hypnotics work best as they're meant for this purpose, give me the most natural "falling asleep" (ie, they don't bash me into oblivion) and have no hang-over effect. I use them ONLY after a week or more of little to no sleep, and then for no more than 3 nights in a row. (They loose their efficacy quickly and I don't want to complicate the situation.) That gets me back on track. I do need to be able to function during the day-and that includes driving. I'm not about to risk others with my sleep-deprivation and there's no "Plan B" for me as a widow: My old cat hates the car ("Oh noooo! The vet!") and she's the only other "resident." Unfortunately, my body will not nap: When it's light out, my body says it's time to be up-I can't fool it even with the blinds pulled down and a dark room regardless of how sleep-deprived I am.

    Prolonged sleep deprivation does horrible stuff to our bodies and minds. Much like everything else in life, it's all about trade-offs and fiddling until you find what works-for the most part-for you.

    • Interesting that it you have a 1-1.5 hrs shut down routine. That explains why the 15 minute one I am using barely scratches the surface. I also like the idea of light reading instead of my heavy duty self assigned homework. Sleep deprivation just sucks the life out of me. I am hoping the yoga techniques will help me to teach my muscles to relax.

  3. Whoa! 15 min. to “shut it down?!” Maybe it seems excessive to “use” this much time (as I do) but it’s not like I’m not “accomplishing” stuff, just substituting “mindless chores” and some light reading off-line. I still like the”feel” of a magazine (ex: Nat Geo, Vanity Fair) or a book (short stories, humorous, uplifting etc.) in my hands to take my mind somewhere else after my body has performed the clean up/get ready and make the AM a bit more “mindless” as well-like getting the coffee ready. There’s no way I could get my mind or body to shut down in 15 min! You’re a true “marathoner,” Ruth!
    The stretching thing isn’t anything special at all. I’ll try to explain this as best I can: When I get into bed-and I plop in the middle because I can 😉 -I lay on my back arms slightly extended from my sides. I start slowly inhaling and as I’m doing this:
    Starting with my toes and feet, working my way up my legs to my torso, arms down to my fingers I start tightening up my muscles, area by area. It’s like stretching when you yawn-if you’ve ever, for example raised your arms up and stretched them when you yawn? Like that kind of stretch-not to the point of pain, but to the point I do feel it. I hold the tightened stretch for a bit and then slowly start to relax the muscles while I’m doing a slow exhale starting with my feet and working my way back up again. I do this a few times. The key for me is SLOW.
    My shoulders and neck are big “problem areas” for my muscles so they get an additional but kind of different “move:” Keeping my palms on the bed, I move my shoulders around slowly as if I’m rowing a boat. My neck responds to slow movements of my head on the pillow as if I’m making a “circle” on the pillow. Again, the key is *slow.*

    I still have a hard time getting in touch with my body and often think I’m relaxed and so are my muscles-until I start stretching and relaxing the stretch and feel as if I’m actually “sinking” into the bed. When I feel that “sinking,” I know my muscles are truly relaxed. I tend to be pretty hyper so I have to remind myself to slow down my stretching-rushing through it never works. I’ve done this for so many years now it doesn’t feel like a “chore” to complete, just habit *because it works* for me!
    I’m sure Yoga will give you some great tips as well. Lack of sleep-ugh. If it was occasional I’m sure I could power through but the chronically sleep-deprived me isn’t “safe” for human consumption! 😉

    • I like these ideas. I set my alarm for earlier so I can stretch in the morning and not have to jump right up in a rush. I tend to keep my body on the run. I sometimes suspect I am trying to make up for years of not moving hardly at all. Lots to think about thanks.

  4. Pingback: Sleep is self care | PTSD - Accepting, Coping, Thriving

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