Sleep Better with Complex PTSD – Beat Insomnia the [Unconventional] Way

ptsd sleep person lying on bed

Complex PTSD and Sleep

If you’re struggling with CPTSD and insomnia (or other sleep issues), this post is for you.

I want to share an unconventional way that has helped me immensely and that I believe can help you too.

But before we get into it, let me give some context as to why I think this method works so well.

As many of you know, I’ve been through a lot in my life, I experienced all kinds of traumas.

All of this took a toll on my mental and physical health. For a long time, I was plagued by nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

And now with Corala Blanket we sleep better. For good.

What are the conventional ways of treating post-traumatic stress disorder?

The conventional ways of treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involve long-term psychological therapy, medication, and psychotherapy.

  1. Long-term Psychological Therapy: This form of treatment focuses on helping people regain their trust in others, improve their work life and opportunities, and develop leisure interests.
  2. Medication: Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (sertraline, paroxetine), tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors can be used to treat the symptoms of PTSD, including its effects on sleep. Prazosin is also especially useful for treatment of the nightmares associated with PTSD. In addition, medications such as olanzapine, risperidone, and quetiapine may be employed for treating other psychiatric conditions which may be present.
  3. Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist is an effective primary or complementary treatment for PTSD. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are two therapies which are commonly used to treat PTSD.
  4. Ongoing Mental health Support: After a treatment plan has been established and followed, ongoing support is important in order to ensure the success of the treatment program. Mental health charities can provide additional resources.
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How to sleep better with complex PTSD?

Step 1: Identify your current sleep status

Identify Your Current Sleep Status: Before you can start improving your sleep, you need to take a few moments and consider your current sleep status. Note down your bedtime, wake-up time and the approximate amount of time that you spend in bed. Also, consider if you feel rested after sleeping and if you wake up feeling refreshed or exhausted.

Step 2: Assess the impact of trauma on sleep quality

The impact of trauma on sleep quality can be assessed using a variety of methods, including

  • Self-report sleep questionnaires, such as the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) or the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-C), are used to assess general sleep quality, as well as specific sleep-related symptoms, such as sleep onset latency and total sleep time.
  • Sleep Diary studies can provide valuable information regarding sleep patterns over an extended period of time.
  • Actigraphy, which measures physical activity during sleep, can be used to assess disturbances in REM sleep.
  • A sleep study, such as a polysomnography, can assess sleep-related physiological parameters, such as breathing rate and oxygen saturation. Even at-home sleep studies are accurate enough.

Studies have shown that individuals with PTSD commonly have difficulty falling asleep quicker, as well as experiencing frequent awakenings, nightmares, and poor overall sleep quality (Babson & Feldner, 2010; Harvey & Bryant, 2002; Pace-Schott et al., 2010; Ross et al., 1989).

Furthermore, research suggests that pre-deployment sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, are associated with the subsequent development of PTSD, therefore, assessing sleep quality is an important part of evaluating the impact of trauma on an individual.

Step 3: Consider using a sleep intervention strategy such as guided meditation or mindfulness training

Using a sleep intervention strategy such as guided meditation or mindfulness training can help those with complex PTSD to achieve better sleep as it helps to relax the mind and body, allowing the individual to feel more in control of their environment and their ability to achieve a restful sleep. Meditation and mindfulness training provide an opportunity to focus on the present moment and to be more mindful of the physical body, allowing a deeper level of relaxation and reduced stress.

Establishing a pre-sleep routine that incorporates relaxation techniques can help to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and the number of times the individual wakes up during the night.

Step 4: Educate yourself about insomnia and complex PTSD

Learning about insomnia and complex PTSD can help with sleep by understanding the underlying causes of poor sleep. Complex PTSD is caused by repeated traumatic events and can put the brain in a state of fight or flight, which can lead to anxiety and stress that make it difficult to relax and sleep. By understanding the cause of the disorder, individuals can take steps to help manage their symptoms.

Step 5: Set up a sleeping environment that is conducive to sleep

Start by making sure that your room is dark and comfortable, with the right temperature. Curtains and blackout shades are great for ensuring darkness. Make sure your mattress is comfortable, and use blankets and pillows that you find most relaxing.

Step 6: Engage in self-care practices that promote relaxation and sleep

For people with complex PTSD, self-care practices to promote relaxation and sleep can include: creating a nighttime routine, taking nightly medications, watching calming sitcoms or online videos to help unwind, avoiding digital devices at least 30-60 minutes before bed, eating a light snack, drinking calming tea, feeding pets, washing the face, brushing teeth, taking out contacts, changing into pajamas, setting out clothes for the next day, listening to light music or white noise apps, journaling, and engaging in activities that are personally enjoyable or soothing.

Step 7: Implement an approach to managing nightmares that works for you

Keep a journal nearby. If you have a particularly distressing nightmare, scribble down the key components that were most troubling to you. Even if your handwriting is unintelligible or your thoughts are jumbled, try to capture as much of the nightmare as you can. This can help you to “get it out”, and you can fold the page over so you can’t even see it anymore.

Consider imagery rehearsal therapy or imaginal exposure therapy. Imagery rehearsal therapy involves rescripting the nightmare story towards a better ending, and then rehearsing the new dream through imagination. Imaginal exposure involves facing the nightmare story and desensitizing yourself to it.

Step 8: Try a weighted blanket

Using a weighted blanket may be helpful for some individuals with C-PTSD who struggle with sleep. Weighted blankets are designed to apply gentle pressure to the body, which can promote a sense of calm and relaxation. The pressure from the blanket may also help to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Step 9: Monitor your progress with sleep quality monitors

Sleep quality monitors can help with better sleep with complex PTSD by providing objective data about sleep patterns, sleep onset latency, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency. This data can then be used to assess and detect any nightly arousals, limb movements, and daily rhythms in sleep and activity. By accurately diagnosing sleep disorders according to DSM-5 criteria and the International Classification of Sleep Disorders 3, clinicians can better determine the presence of trauma-related triggers and develop a more comprehensive sleep plan.

Additionally, sleep quality monitors can help to provide a more accurate report of nightly behaviors, as it can be difficult to accurately screen for sleep disorders without this type of objective data. By providing valuable data and insights on sleep patterns and behaviors, sleep quality monitors can be a valuable tool in the 8-step process for better sleep with complex PTSD.

How to help someone with ptsd sleep?

Step-by-step Instructions for Helping Someone with PTSD Sleep:

  1. Design a comfortable sleeping area
  2. Develop a calm bedtime ritual
  3. Stick to the same sleep schedule every day
  4. Do not nap during the day
  5. Exercise every day, but not right before bed.
  6. Keep your bedroom cool and quiet
  7. Try white noise to fall asleep quicker
  8. Use your bed only for sleeping
  9. Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine
  10. Seek out therapy to both manage sleep issues and PTSD.
  11. Try doing EMDR on yourself

PTSD and sleep disorders

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder in which individuals experience symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, changes in mood, and difficulty regulating emotions. Sleep disturbances frequently co-occur with PTSD and include insomnia, nightmares, and a range of other sleep disorders. Insomnia and nightmares are viewed as core symptoms of PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD and sleep disorders can be treated with a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. Standard pharmacological treatments include antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and antipsychotics. Non-pharmacological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR Therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, and exposure therapy are also commonly used. These treatments aim to reduce symptoms of PTSD and improve sleep quality.

What is post traumatic insomnia?

Post traumatic insomnia is a type of sleep disorder that arises in the context of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). It is characterized by difficulties in initiating or maintaining sleep, and a feeling that obtained sleep is non-refreshing or of poor quality. It is caused by the hyperarousal associated with exposure to trauma, and can lead to an increased risk of developing PTSD. Insomnia is also found to be more common in people with PTSD as compared to those with other disorders. People may develop acute insomnia after any kind of traumatic event, including virtual or indirect exposure to trauma.

How does PTSD affect sleep?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause a variety of sleep disturbances and can lead to long-term problems with sleep quality and duration. The extreme anxiety caused by trauma or catastrophe can cause insomnia, frequent waking, nightmares, hypervigilance, and a heightened startle response. These changes in arousal can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep, as well as cause excessive waking throughout the night. Furthermore, sleep issues can worsen other PTSD symptoms, such as irritability, aggression, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty coping with PTSD symptoms. Sleep is an important part of self-care for people with PTSD, and treatment of any sleep-related problems should be taken seriously.

EMDR for Complex PTSD to improve sleep

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy approach that has been used to treat various mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Complex PTSD refers to a type of PTSD that develops as a result of prolonged exposure to trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect.

fear nightmare terror bad dream
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EMDR can be helpful in addressing the symptoms of complex PTSD, including sleep disturbances. During the 8 phases of an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client through a series of bilateral stimulation exercises, such as eye movements or tapping. These bilateral stimulation exercises are designed to help the client process traumatic memories and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.

By working through traumatic experiences and reducing the intensity of associated emotions and sensations, EMDR can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia that are often associated with complex PTSD. Additionally, EMDR may help reprocess negative beliefs about sleep and restore a sense of safety and control around sleep.


What are the symptoms of Complex PTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a condition which can have many symptoms, which are in addition to the core symptoms of PTSD. These include feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame; difficulty controlling emotions; difficulty forming and maintaining relationships; ongoing feelings of emptiness; reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares; feeling afraid of no apparent reason; feeling hopeless; and thoughts or actions of suicide. It is important to remember that while these are the most common symptoms, there may be more.

How to sleep with PTSD nightmares?

Step-by-Step Instructions for How to Sleep with PTSD Nightmares

  1. Get Treatment for the Trauma: The first step in addressing and treating PTSD-related nightmares is to get treatment for the initial trauma that caused the nightmares.
  2. Use Nightmare Reprocessing: American psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek describes a Nightmare Reprocessing technique where you identify a negative and a positive assumption about yourself in relation to the content of the nightmare, change the ending of the dream, and then replay the dream with the new ending each night after listening to 5 or 10 minutes of relaxing guided imagery.
  3. Consider Medication: New research suggests that Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid used to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients, can help alleviate nightmares associated with PTSD.
  4. Make Lifestyle Changes: Exercise every day, keep your bedroom cool and quiet, if you can’t sleep, get up and do something else, use your bed only for sleeping.
  5. Try Meditation or Yoga: Meditation or yoga can be especially helpful for managing PTSD-related sleep problems. Yoga Nidra is beneficial when it comes to clam andsleep better.
Categorized as PTSD

By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.