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Sleep and how it is impacted by stress

Recommendations and links to the National Sleep Foundation

Stress from a traumatic event can often lead to a variety of sleep problems such as insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue. 

Common sleep problems following a trauma:

  • Flashbacks and troubling thoughts can make falling asleep difficult
  • The victim might feel the need to maintain a high level of vigilance, which can make sleep difficult
  • For those who experience violent situations, nighttime and darkness can, in and of themselves, bring about added anxiety and restlessness
  • Taking naps during the day might be helpful, but, if overdone, can also interfere with your efforts to sleep through the night
  • Once asleep, nightmares cab frighten a survivor back to consciousness, and getting back to sleep can be very difficult
  • Many survivors use alcohol or other drugs to numb emotional and physical pain following trauma. These substances can impact the healing process and exacerbate sleep problems

Coping and tips

For those who are experiencing temporary sleep problems, there are a number of recommendations for dealing with insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue. Sleep experts recommend trying to reduce feelings of stress, especially before bedtime. Don't watch the news right before going to bed. Avoid coffee in the afternoon and evening. Take a warm bath or soak in a hot tub before bedtime. If sleep problems persist, see your doctor who can prescribe medications that will help you sleep, but won't make you groggy in the morning.