Updated at: 05-01-2022 - By: Jane Brody

One’s well-being and ability to function are permanently affected by traumatic experiences. Psychological trauma can be the result of a single traumatic experience, or it can accumulate over time as a result of repeated exposure to stressful situations.

Even though the term “trauma” has evolved throughout the years, it’s apparent that many people have been directly or indirectly affected by something that may be considered traumatic. Over the course of their lives, the vast majority of people are likely to be confronted with at least one potentially traumatic occurrence.

Suicide and other mental and physical health problems can be exacerbated by traumatic experiences. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour free and confidential support online and over the phone for anyone in trouble.

The Effects of Trauma on the Body

There are times when the brain tries to defend itself from injury by acting swiftly. To activate the fight-flight-freeze (FFF) response, the body’s innate alarm system (the stress response) is activated. As the body prepares to defend itself, hormones are produced, muscles tense, heart rate rises, and respiration speed up.

Resetting the body’s stress response occurs after a threat or trauma has passed. Psychological trauma can cause a wide range of initial reactions, but they are all regarded to be healthy. Confusion, worry, stimulation of the body, and trouble expressing feelings are common reactions. Even the most difficult reactions to traumatic experiences can be lessened over time as one’s body and mind learn to integrate and heal the experience. Fortunately, humans are extremely resilient.

After a distressing occurrence, some people have delayed reactions. Depression, exhaustion, nightmares, and even the emergence of sleep disorders are all possible delayed effects. A more serious case of post-traumatic stress may be indicated if these symptoms persist or begin to interfere with daily activities such as job, school, or personal relationships.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Recurring and uncontrollable memories of the traumatic incident (e.g. flashbacks) are common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (nightmares). External reminders (people, places, activities), as well as internal memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the event, maybe avoided by those suffering from this disease. Because of their increased sensitivity and hypervigilance to danger, those close to them may notice changes in their mood.

Most people who are exposed to stressful events don’t acquire post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research. People experiencing PTSD symptoms should consult with a physician to learn about available treatment options. Therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder is available to assist survivors to recover from the effects of trauma.

The Impacts of Trauma on Sleep

It’s not uncommon for people to have trouble sleeping following a terrible event. Insomnia is frequently accompanied by signs of alertness and hyperarousal as a result of the body’s stress reaction. After a trauma, many people have trouble sleeping again because they find it difficult to fall asleep in the first place.

It is possible for trauma to alter sleep architecture, which means that sleep cycles and stages can be altered. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep appears to be most affected, although specialists are still trying to figure out the full ramifications of the alterations in sleep architecture after trauma. Dreams are more fanciful and weird when they occur during REM sleep, which is critical for storing memories and processing emotions.

Trauma is associated with disturbing dreams and nightmares. Trauma survivors typically have dreams that either recreate the event or contain emotional content, symbols, and images associated with the trauma. Trauma-related dreams, according to some theories, are brought on by the brain’s fear response and hyperarousal, and maybe an attempt by the mind to process a traumatic event.

Traumatic experiences can disrupt sleep, which can be upsetting, but it can also be an opportunity for treatment and recovery. Trauma-related memories may be less upsetting and less intrusive if a person can sleep after the occurrence. Early treatment of trauma may lower the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder by addressing sleep disorders.

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Sleep Disorders After Trauma

For the vast majority of people who have experienced trauma, insomnia is a condition that can be resolved on its own. People with higher degrees of post-traumatic stress and PTSD tend to have more severe and long-lasting sleep difficulties. Trauma-induced sleep disorders, such as nightmares, periodic leg movements, sleep terrors, and parasomnias such as REM sleep behavior disorder, are extremely rare.

Childhood Trauma and Sleep

Trauma from childhood can have a long-term effect on a person’s mental and physical health. 17,000 adults took part in the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study, which examined the effects of childhood traumas, sometimes known as “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). In this groundbreaking study, it was shown that ACEs raise the chance of mental and physical health issues later in life, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and even an early demise.

Childhood trauma may raise the risk of disease later in life by promoting the development of sleep disorders and their detrimental effects. After a traumatic event, up to half of the youngsters exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as hyperarousal and difficulty sleeping. Since childhood brain development can be significantly impacted by trauma, sleep disorders may remain or worsen as a kid enters adolescence and adulthood.

More than twice as many people with considerable amounts of childhood trauma have problems falling asleep and feel weary after a full night’s sleep as individuals with little or no ACEs. Sleep deprivation can be exacerbated by ACEs for as long as 50 years, and each one in childhood increases the likelihood of it in adulthood by 20 percent.

Adult insomnia can be exacerbated by childhood trauma, as well. Adults with insomnia who have a high number of ACEs wake up more frequently and have more disturbed sleep than those who have a low or no number of ACEs, according to research.

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Tips for Sleeping After Trauma

It’s natural for a traumatic event to alter your sleep patterns. Have faith in your body’s ability to repair itself and be patient with the process. Sleep problems can be alleviated with the support of a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or counselor. To help you sleep better as you recover from trauma, here are a few more suggestions:

  • Maintain your usual sleep schedule: A regular bedtime routine is critical to getting a good night’s sleep. Attempting to gradually return to your previous sleep schedule may help you. Maintaining consistent sleep and wake times throughout the week will help your body prepare for rest time.
  • Sleep where you feel safe: Traumatic situations might make it difficult to go asleep because they make us feel insecure, making it difficult to relax enough to do so. When you’re in the process of healing, think about how you can make your bed seem more secure. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may want to try sleeping with someone else nearby, keeping a phone nearby, or leaving a dim light on in a portion of your room.
  • Engage the relaxation response: Using the body’s natural relaxation reaction is a simple technique to alleviate the symptoms of stress. Using relaxation techniques before going to bed can help activate this reaction and relax the body and mind.
  • Don’t force sleep: Tossing and turning in your sleep for more than 20 minutes may be a sign that it’s time to get out of bed and find something more calming to do. When you’re feeling drowsy, you could try taking a warm bath, reading, or listening to music.
  • Understand that your symptoms may be normal: Regardless of how you choose to deal with a traumatic event, it is crucial to know when to seek help. To assist patients to recover from the effects of trauma, doctors, counselors, and social workers have extensive training.
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