Many people with PTSD have problems with sleep. We have trouble falling asleep, we wake in the night, or we wake too early in the morning. This often leaves us chronically sleep deprived, distressed and depressed, and unable to function well during the day. It also makes effective therapy more difficult.
A major reason for the inability to sleep is the chronic activation of the adrenals, which is an almost universal result of trauma. The adrenal activation does not allow us to sink into the Parasympathetic Nervous System, the mediator of the rest and relax response. Instead we stay stuck in the Sympathetic Nervous System, which keeps us activated and hyperalert. Our modern lifestyle is also very activating for the SNS.
I have suffered from insomnia for most of my adult life, and have found that no one cure for insomnia works for me. However, the additive effect of a number of different methods has brought the most help.
Following is a list of approaches that I personally have found useful at various times, grouped by method of activation. I have put ** around the methods that I currently use, but it seems that every person needs to find their own particular combination.
Feel free to contact me for more about my experience with any of these methods.
TRANSITIONING INTO THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
*Don’t be digesting* Eat your last meal of the day 3-4 hours before sleep time. Aim to eat just enough so that digestion is mostly finished but you are not hungry when you go to bed.
*An hour of transition time* One hour before sleep time, turn off screens and phone, do your bedtime preparations and get into bed. Read a book, or listen to soothing music or a guided relaxation. Alternatively, meditate for part of this time.
*Reduce noise and light* When ready for sleep, use an eye mask to block light. Wear earplugs and/or earmuffs. I have even worn earmuffs all night in noisy urban areas.
*Energy balancing exercise* NOTE: I have found this extremely effective. Once you are in bed and ready to go to sleep, take your left hand and place the tips of the thumb and pointer finger together. Wrap your right hand around those two fingers, holding them gently together. For up to 5 minutes, breathe in through the nostrils, hold for one second, and out through the mouth.
HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS
*Cannabis* (If medical marijuana or hemp is legal where you live). Most sleep inducing cannabis preparations are high in CBD and have no or low THC. Different people seem to need different ratios of CBD and THC, and some people seem to need high THC for best effect.
*Calcium and Magnesium* Consult a Naturopath for the best time to take these, the best forms and best amounts of each. Also consider a warm bath with Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate) which soaks in through the skin.
Herbs. Hops and Passionflower have a soothing effect. Valerian can be even more soporific, but be aware that for some it is a stimulant rather than a relaxant.
L-Tryptophan. Available as a supplement, it has a relaxing effect.
Melatonin is the hormone that makes us feel naturally sleepy. The yellow/orange/red light of sunset prompts melatonin production, which is suspended by the blue light of both morning sunlight and artificial lighting.
*Change your screen color at night* Install software that automatically changes displays to more orange and less blue light at sunset. F.lux is one version.
*Yellow Glasses* An hour or more before bed, put on glasses with yellow lenses to stop blue light entering your eyes. These are inexpensive and available on amazon.
*Black out your bedroom* Use blackout blinds and/or curtains to create near-total darkness for sleep. Don’t use night lights.
* Melatonin supplements* There is controversy about how helpful it is to take melatonin, and how much is advisable. Consult your Naturopath.
HARMONIZING WITH THE NATURAL SLEEP CYCLE
*Aim to be asleep before 11 p.m.* (12 DST) Chinese medicine tells us that chi activates various organs in turn over a 24 hour cycle. The gallbladder, which supports planning, comes online at 11. It is best to be asleep before this more active mind/body phase begins.
*Change your smart meter* If you have a smart meter, have it changed for an analog meter*. (After installation of a smart meter I started to experience increased insomnia and alarming muscle weakness, which healed once the meter was replaced.)
*Turn off wi-fi* and turn off your phone at night or put it in another room.*
*Turn off power* If possible turn off the power to your house at night to reduce electrical circuit EMF’s. If you need light during the night, use a battery operated salt lamp and/or a headlight with a red light option.
ATTENDING TO EMOTIONS
*Anxiety activates the SNS. Use therapy and/or meditation to reduce anxiety. If possible change your life circumstances to bring more calm to your life*
*Anger. If you are habitually wakeful from 11 to 3 (or 12 to 4), unconscious anger may need attention* Chinese medicine tells us that the gallbladder and liver, which mediate anger, are activated during these hours.
*Grief. If you are habitually wakeful from 3 to 7 (or 4 to 8), unconscious grief, sadness or depression may need attention* These are the hours for lungs and large intestine, which mediate grief.
ATTENDING TO TOXICITY
The following comments are purely from my own personal experience.
Heavy Metals. At one point I accumulated a high body burden of mercury and nickel from dental restorations. This was extremely irritating to my nervous system and caused severe, intractable insomnia, which slowly eased as I detoxed. If you think you may have been exposed to heavy metals, consider being tested and detoxing.
*Petrochemicals and perfumes. Exposure to these often increases my insomnia. Consider avoiding all conventional cosmetic, bodycare, cleaning and laundry products. Consider detoxing petrochemicals naturopathically*
ATTENDING TO NUTRITION
Studies have shown that eating junk food is associated with increased depression. One symptom of depression is sleep disruption, so it makes sense to optimize nutrition to avoid this cycle. *I aim to optimize my mental health by eating only organic whole foods, avoiding sugar, dairy and gluten, and taking high doses of all the basic vitamins and minerals*
My loving wish for you is that by experimenting with these and other methods, you can find your very own recipe for restful and restorative sleep.