How PTSD Affects Sleep (An Insomnia Discussion)



Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD triggers dysfunctional brain development. It is a mental health condition that occurs when a person experiences or witnesses a horrifying life incident. Symptoms of PTSD may include a series of nightmares, severe anxiety, event flashbacks, panic attacks, and insomnia.

If you feel flooded with negative thoughts, get out a pen and paper and write three to five things you’re grateful for. — Katie DiMuzio, LCSW


According to experts, physical and psychological trauma can negatively impact sleep. Factors like PTSD further complicate the condition of sleeplessness that leads to insomnia – the difficulty of falling asleep or staying asleep. This condition can be characterized as chronic or acute insomnia based on its duration. Acute insomnia is brief, and most people may have experienced this type of insomnia in their lifetime. It is a type of condition that may resolve itself without the aid of any medication.

On the other hand, chronic insomnia is a disruptive sleep disorder that occurs every three nights per week and lasts for about two to three months. Sometimes, it goes on for years in several severe cases. Its extensiveness creates emotional and psychological dysfunction. That is why there’s a need for medical attention to address the patient’s sleeping pattern.





An unfortunate event may trigger the primary symptoms of PTSD. The effects might linger for months or longer if not adequately treated. Though its disruption that occurs in sleeping sessions may vary from one person to another, its long-term effect still causes damage to the brain. The hyperarousal may result in paranoia and extreme hypervigilance as well. One example of this is being afraid of attackers even inside the comfort of your room or being alerted by slight movements and weak sound in the surrounding. This condition strengthens anxiety that leads to the buildup of persistent insomnia.

Yoga nidra, Sanskrit for yogic sleep, is different from other guided meditations in that it not only directs your attention to your body, it uses special breathing techniques and rotates you back and forth from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. — Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM

What You Should Know

To deal with PTSD, some people use alcohol to cope with their distress. However, according to experts, alcohol usage results in disrupted breathing during sleep. It is usually manifested as sleep apnea, one of the most common sleeping disorders. In this state, people find themselves waking up more frequently during the night. Some of them have trouble falling back to sleep as well. Because of the sleep problem, some patients with PTSD develop fear in going to sleep. They experience the same traumatic feeling as soon as they go to bed. The condition eventually triggers mental dysfunction which leads to more medical problems different from the current lingering state.

People who have PTSD are known to experience sleeping problems because their brain works twice as active as the usual. According to studies, the condition gets affected by certain factors that won’t let the brain rest and relax. These factors are anxiety, overthinking, addiction and depression.


In therapy, you have a chance to talk through/process some of these experiences (e.g. being bullied, experiencing trauma, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse). — Meredith Brown, LCSW

The connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia is very clear. So if symptoms continue longer than three months, there’s an absolute need for medical attention. Medications and therapy are required to avoid reaching a more chronic condition. Since the mental illness causes a lot of problems and affects all areas of a person’s overall function, an immediate diagnosis is a top priority.