Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD

Sleeping problems affect over 80% of patients with complex PTSD. Even a single traumatic event can create lifelong psychological trauma that impacts your body over time. Since lack of sleep can significantly impact your overall health, it’s crucial to get your sleep habits under control. 

Healthy sleep habits can reduce the symptoms of PTSD and improve your physical and mental health issues. Let’s look at some excellent sleep strategies for patients who have complex PTSD. 

The Impact of Complex PTSD on Sleep

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder experience several sleep changes navigating the condition. As the body enters the “fight or flight” response to stress, alertness and hyperarousal can contribute to insomnia. Many patients experience difficulties falling asleep. Others wake up often during the night and have issues falling back to sleep after vivid dreams or nightmares. 

Other effects of complex PTSD on sleep include:

  • Chronic insomnia
  • Nightmare disorder
  • Periodic leg movement disorder
  • Sleep terrors
  • Parasomnia

In addition, trauma can affect sleep architecture, changing how your body moves through the different cycles and stages of sleep. Recent studies show that REM sleep, the deepest and most crucial sleep state, is the stage most affected by trauma. Many trauma survivors have nightmares and distressing dreams about the traumatic event that are exaggerated during REM sleep. 

Treating sleep issues and adopting strategies to improve your sleep after trauma can also help heal. Research shows that healthy sleep habits after a traumatic event can reduce trauma-related memories. 

Tips for Healthy Sleep After Trauma


While it is normal and expected for a traumatic experience to affect the quality of your sleep, there are several steps you can take to reduce sleep problems. For starters, it’s essential to accept that sleeping problems are a normal part of PTSD and healing from a traumatic event. Sleep disruptions are your nervous system’s normal reaction to stress. Try not to get upset or force yourself to sleep, as this can have the opposite effect on your sleep patterns. 

Follow these tips and strategies to improve your sleep with complex PTSD:

1. Maintain a Healthy Schedule

Improve your sleep quality by following a consistent schedule. Take the steps necessary to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking simultaneously helps your body get restful sleep. Do your best to create and maintain a consistent sleep schedule on weekends. 

2. Find a Sense of Safety

Many patients with complex PTSD have a negative sense of safety. It can be challenging to feel safe, calm, and relaxed to fall asleep. Look at your sleep environment. Is there anything around you that can impact your sense of safety? Improve your environment to maintain a sense of security while recovering. For example, leave a light on in your bedroom or keep your phone close to your bed. 

3. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is essential to all individuals, but it’s imperative for those under extreme stress. Since sleep after trauma often comes with flashbacks, nightmares, and triggers, it’s vital to take care of yourself. Practicing self-care eases the mind and soothes the body. Make simple lifestyle changes to take better care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, pamper yourself, engage in activities that make you happy. Whatever it takes to make yourself feel calm and relaxed is essential to quality sleep. 

4. Exercise

In addition to sleep problems, many individuals with complex PTSD experience depression and anxiety. Withdrawing from physical activities while depressed can leave you feeling restless at the end of the day. Since your physical health directly impacts your mental health, it’s vital to take care of your body. Even 20-30 minutes of daily exercise can positively impact your sleep quality. 

5. Manage Stress

The better you manage your stress, the better you will sleep! Even those without PTSD can have difficulty sleeping when stressed. Therefore, managing stress is vital to healthy sleep habits. Find creative ways to manage stress. Engage in stress relief exercises, limit late-night exposure to electronic devices, avoid drugs and alcohol, and find activities that excite you. 

6. Meditate Before Bed


Living with complex PTSD typically creates stress, anxiety, and insecurity. Meditating before bed is an effective way to tame negative thoughts and prevent nightmares. Meditation can also ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Since meditation comes in different forms, find a method that feels most comfortable for you. Regular meditation has long-lasting positive effects on your mind, body, and overall health. Sit in an empty room with tranquil music, focus on your breathing, and use strategies to eliminate negative energy and embrace positivity. You can also find free meditation apps for your mobile device or guided mediation on YouTube for your mobile device. 

7. Engage in Therapy


Therapy is an excellent treatment option for complex PTSD and can effectively overcome sleep disturbance symptoms. You can find ways to heal and restore your regular sleep habits through therapy. Talk with your therapist about how your PTSD impacts your sleep. They can help you find the right strategy for your specific needs. 

Sleep disturbances with complex PTSD is a common issue many patients face. You can heal from your trauma and find a healthy sleep schedule with some time and effort once again. Contact us with more details on treating sleep disturbances from post-traumatic stress disorder. For more information on our trauma therapy services, visit our treatment programs page.

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