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Coping with Sleep Problems


Updated June 24, 2009

It is common for people with PTSD to experience sleep problems. In fact, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep is considered one of the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD, and studies have found that sleep problems are one of the most commonly reported symptoms reported by people with PTSD.

Sleep problems are important to address because poor sleep can lead to a number of other problems. A lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can be a factor contributing to stress and mood problems. Poor sleep can also have a negative impact on your physical health.

Fortunately, you can do a number of things to improve the quality and amount of sleep that you get. If you experience sleep problems, try out some of the following tips:

  1. Exercise during the day. However, make sure to avoid exercise within six hours of your bedtime.

  2. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule.

  3. Avoid eating heavy meals before going to bed; however, make sure that you do not go to bed hungry.

  4. Reduce the amount of caffeine and nicotine that you consume during the day. Avoid drinking caffeine after lunch time, and do not smoke before going to bed.

  5. Try to avoid or limit naps during the day, especially after 3 p.m.

  6. Avoid consuming alcohol within six hours of your bedtime.

  7. Forcing yourself to fall asleep will never work. If you are having a hard time falling asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get up out of bed and try to do something relaxing (for example, drinking tea, reading a book). Do not return to bed until you feel drowsy.

  8. Try to make your bedroom a relaxing place, and try to limit your activities in the bedroom. For example, do not eat, watch television, check e-mail on your laptop, or talk on the phone in bed. Your bedroom should be associated with sleep.

  9. Try to keep your bedroom at a cool and comfortable temperature.

  10. Utilize a white noise machine, ear plugs, or an eye mask to help block out any distracting noises or light.

  11. Practice relaxation exercises before bed to release muscle tension and slow down your breathing.

  12. Many people experience worry when they go to bed at night. Practice mindfulness of thoughts to separate yourself from these worries.

  13. Use medications for sleep cautiously and only under a physician's supervision.

  14. Find ways to express and process unpleasant emotions and thoughts. Some sleep problems may be due to a person not adequately coping with stress. Journal or seek out social support to limit the amount of stress that you carry into your sleep.

Sleep is important for your continued physical and psychological health, especially for the person struggling with PTSD. You can learn more about how to cope with sleep problems from About.com Guide to Sleep Disorders.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2009). Sleep hygiene: The healthy habits of good sleep. http://www.sleepeducation.com/Hygiene.aspx.

Bourne, E. J. (1995). The anxiety and phobia workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Harvey, A. G., Jones, C., & Schmidt, D. A. (2003). Sleep and posttraumatic stress disroder: A review. Clinical Psychology Review, 23, 377-407.

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  5. Sleep Problems - PTSD and Sleep Problems

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