How PTSD Affects Sleep

Posted on Oct 15, 2019

Freelance writer, Krista Harper explains to us the effects of PTSD on your sleep.

Krista Harper is a freelance writer based in Southern California who regularly covers lifestyle, mental health, and nutrition topics. She has a passion for helping people create a balanced life. 

For people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trying to fall asleep can be a nightmare in itself. PTSD can happen to anyone after a traumatic event in their life. It's believed that up to 8% of the American population will experience PTSD at some point.

While getting enough sleep is challenging enough for many people, it's especially difficult for PTSD sufferers, who may have nightmares about their traumatic experience. They may also be afraid to fall asleep for fear of experiencing disturbing dreams. 

It is possible for people with PTSD to enjoy quality sleep, but it does take patience and consistency to reach that point. Here's how PTSD affects sleep and what can be done to get a good night's rest.

What is PTSD?

As noted, PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a mental health condition triggered after a person experiences or witnesses a frightening, shocking, or dangerous event. PTSD sufferers may experience flashbacks or nightmares about the event and have extreme anxiety. The condition is common among military veterans, first responders, and victims of violence including sexual assault. 

While PTSD can bring on symptoms of depression and hopelessness about the future, it can subside over time with self-care, therapy, and treatment. It's important to note that PTSD is not a sign of weakness in an individual. A disturbing experience can trigger PTSD in anybody.

How PTSD Affects Sleep

PTSD increases the chances of developing sleep disorders. Here are some of the most common ones:

Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances are very common in people with PTSD. A 2006 study found that up to 91% of people with PTSD have difficulty falling or staying asleep, and nightmares are reported by up to 71% of patients. This can create a fear of falling asleep.


Hyperarousal is another problem; PTSD sufferers may be "on guard" and more sensitive to sounds and movements, making it hard to fall asleep. Some people may also view sleep as relinquishing control. They may become obsessed with a need to have control over every moment in their life following trauma. 

Sleep Apnea

People with PTSD are more likely to have sleep apnea which is when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Researchers haven't yet determined why this is so, but abusing alcohol and smoking to deal with PTSD can increase the risk of getting sleep apnea. 

PTSD can cause people to lose sleep at night and try to make up for it by sleeping during the day, creating a bad sleep cycle. Insomnia can make anxiety worse.

How to Sleep Better With PTSD

People with PTSD need to take extra steps to make their bedroom feel like a peaceful haven. Make sure the room remains at a comfortable temperature that isn't too hot or cold. Stay away from mobile devices for at least an hour before getting into bed; their blue light can mimic daytime and keep you awake.

Establish a nighttime routine that focuses on relaxing and winding down. Stay away from caffeinated beverages and foods and sugar and eat a light, healthy snack that can help induce sleep. Practice mindfulness meditation; at least one study has found that it can combat insomnia. A soothing guided online meditation will help you visualize pleasing situations. If background noises are an issue, invest in a white noise machine that will help mask distracting sounds.


Ongoing therapy may be needed to help manage PTSD. Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help you fall asleep and sleep better through the night