How to Sleep After Seeing Something Traumatic? (7 Tips)

In this brief guide, we will look at how to sleep after seeing something traumatic, as well as other things related to trauma and sleep like PTSD, sleeping with PTSD nightmares, Hypervigilance and sleep and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

How to Sleep After Seeing Something Traumatic?

To sleep after seeing something traumatic can be very hard, but through following some relaxation exercises and trying to distract yourself or seeking comfort from a loved one, it is possible to be able to sleep.

If you are trying to sleep after seeing something traumatic, you need to first calm down, because chances are your anxiety is interfering with the sleep process, and your brain is full of the chemicals that keep you from falling asleep.

To go to sleep after seeing something traumatic you need to first ensure your comfort, because being comfortable alone can help someone sleep immediately, and if you are in a position and bed where you are most rested and safe you may find that you fall asleep much quicker.

Additionally, being in a bedroom with optimal conditions and making sure the temperature is just right according to what part of the world you are in, you can find it easier to sleep.


However, whatever trauma you experienced was in the same room where you are trying to sleep, or if you experienced any sort of violence in that room, you may not be able to sleep there at all no matter what you do, so it would be better if you slept somewhere else.

You need to also ensure that you are in a palace where you feel safe, quiet, cool and comfortable and though most people prefer to sleep in a dark room, keeping a nightlight on can help when you are trying to sleep after seeing something traumatic.

Another thing that may help when trying to sleep after seeing something traumatic may be to have a friend or family member stay in the room, or even perhaps in a nearby room, while you are sleeping, because the presence of a comforting figure can help sleep

You can also try engaging in a relaxing, non-alerting activity at bedtime such as reading or listening to music at a low volume and this may help you sleep after seeing something traumatic.

Some people also find it easy to sleep after seeing something traumatic after soaking in a warm bath or hot tub  and you should avoid activities that are mentally or physically stimulating, such as a discussion about the traumatic experience before bedtime or before trying to sleep.

You need to also watch your food and drink intake when you are trying to go to sleep after seeing something traumatic, and make sure you do not over eat or consume any alcohol, because this can make the person much less likely to fall asleep.

You should also make sure you don’t catch random naps during the day because that substantially reduces your capability to get the needed rest when you try to sleep at night, instead, maintain a sleep schedule and stick to it, sleep at a given time at night and wake up at a given time in the morning.

Also make sure you only go to bed when you feel ready to sleep because the longer you toss and turn in bed when you are not able to sleep, the more you are teaching your body that sleep is going to be elusive, and soon you may find that it has become a pattern.

To fall asleep more easily after seeing something traumatic you need to also make sure you do not try to force sleep, because this adds to the pressure of wanting to get to sleep. 

Hypervigilance and Sleep

Hypervigilance refers to a state of excess arousal that does not have any basis in real-world threats, and hypervigilance and sleep are very strongly inversely correlated.

An inverse correlation refers to when two things are connected in a way that when one increases, the other decreases, which may be seen in hypervigilance and sleep.

Many studies have found this and now it is an almost widely known fact that hypervigilance can cause a decrease in the ability to fall asleep and it can also lead to problems maintaining sleep and the quality of sleep will usually also suffer in a state of hypervigilance.

How to help someone with PTSD Sleep?

To help someone with PTSD sleep you can do some of the following things:

  • Comfort them if they wake up too often.
  • Without pressuring them to sleep let them know that you are there.
  • If they are interested, read them something soothing.
  • Be around where they are sleeping.
  • If you are sleeping in the same bed, make sure you don’t crowd them, don’t cuddle too closely because physical affection can sometimes feel stifling to someone with PTSD.
  • Get them a weighted blanket or just very soft bedding, as these induce a feeling of comfort.
  • Help them relax by doing breathing exercises with them.
  • If they wake up because of a nightmare, very gently rub their back
  • If they have a nightmare and have anxiety after, you can also get them some ice to chew on or rub against their forehead
  • Try to distract them if they are ruminating or not able to sleep
  • Engage them in some mindless and repetitive exercise like counting things.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious mental illness that can cause symptoms due to stressful events that happened a few weeks ago, though if the symptoms have not become apparent after 6 months they likely will not, usually it is severe enough to interfere with everyday functioning.

PTSD used to be seen mostly in Soldiers and it came to be known as Shell Shock and Battle fatigue because the context tended to be just the war that they had been in.

However, with time, it has become clear that war is not the only thing that causes PTSD, any circumstance severe enough to damage someone can cause PTSD, and the diagnostic features according to the ICD 10 are as follows:

“This arises as a delayed and/or protracted response to a stressful event or situation (either short- or long-lasting) of an exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature, which is likely to cause pervasive distress in almost anyone (e.g. natural or man-made disaster, combat, serious accident, witnessing the violent death of others, or being the victim of torture, terrorism, rape, or other crime).

Typical symptoms include episodes of repeated reliving of the trauma intrusive memories (”flashbacks”) or dreams, occurring against the persisting background of a sense of “numbness” and emotional blunting, detachment from other people, unresponsiveness to surroundings, anhedonia, and avoidance of activities and situations reminiscent of the trauma. 

Commonly there is fear and avoidance of cues that remind the sufferer of the original trauma. 

Rarely, there may be dramatic, acute bursts of fear, panic or aggression, triggered by stimuli arousing a sudden recollection and/or re-enactment of the trauma or of the original reaction to it.

There is usually a state of autonomic hyperarousal with hypervigilance, an enhanced startle reaction, and insomnia. 

Anxiety and depression are commonly associated with the above symptoms and signs, and suicidal ideation is not infrequent. 

Excessive use of alcohol or drugs may be a complicating factor.

The onset follows the trauma with a latency period which may range from a few weeks to months (but rarely exceeds 6 months).  

The Course is fluctuating but recovery can be expected in the majority of cases. In a small proportion of patients the condition may show a chronic course over many years and a transition to an enduring personality change.”

The diagnostic criteria, on the other hand, include:

“This disorder should not generally be diagnosed unless there is evidence that it arose within 6 months of a traumatic event of exceptional severity. 

A “probable” diagnosis might still be possible if the delay between the event and the onset was longer than 6 months, provided that the clinical manifestations are typical and no alternative identification of the disorder (e.g. as an anxiety or obsessive – compulsive disorder or depressive episode) is plausible. 

In addition to evidence of trauma, there must be a repetitive, intrusive recollection or reenactment of the event in memories, daytime imagery, or dreams. 

Conspicuous emotional detachment, numbing of feeling, and avoidance of stimuli that might arouse recollection of the trauma are often present but are not essential for the diagnosis. 

The autonomic disturbances, mood disorder, and behavioral abnormalities all contribute to the diagnosis but are not of prime importance.”


Conclusion

In this brief guide, we looked at how to sleep after seeing something traumatic, as well as other things related to trauma and sleep like PTSD, sleeping with PTSD nightmares, Hypervigilance and sleep and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Sleeping is required to deal with anxiety and depression and other negative feelings, but what does one do when this process starts getting interrupted because of the very emotions that one needs respite from?

PTSD and other instances of trauma can cause a great deal of interruption to sleep, both the ability to fall asleep as well as the quality of sleep one does get eventually.

This can mean that the individual may go further down the spiral because their brain is simply not able to rest, and this can cause a worsening of symptoms.

People with PTSD also often have nightmares and other sleep related arousal issues that significantly hamper the quality of their sleep, and at the same time it also makes their situation much worse.

PTSD related sleep issues need psychotherapeutic intervention whereas if the sleep issue is coming from just seeing something traumatic once, like an emotionally moving video or movie, you can try some of the tips mentioned above to help you sleep.

If you have any questions or comments about how to sleep after seeing something traumatic, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How to Sleep After Seeing Something Traumatic?

How do you sleep after PTSD?

To sleep after PTSD, you need to go in for psychological intervention to get better, because PTSD is a severe mental illness that only gets worse with time, and the sleep issues associated with PTSD also do not get better on their own, one needs to do something about them.

If you are having trouble sleeping because of PTSD and you are currently seeking the necessary treatment for it, you can also try some of these tips to find some relief:

Have a sleep schedule every day
Avoid napping 
Exercise every day
Keep your bedroom cool

Can PTSD cause sleep problems?

Yes, PTSD can cause sleep problems, and insomnia and nightmares are very common in PTSD, where the nightmares can take on scenes from the trauma that the individual went through.

There may also be night sweats and the quality of sleep may be extremely poor, with frequent  awakenings or waking from sleep much earlier than planned.

Does sleep help trauma?

Yes, sleep helps trauma, in fact, research indicates that if a person keeps within the first 24 hours after a traumatic experience, they may process and integrate the distressing memories more effectively, which means that Sleep can be used as an early prevention strategy for post-traumatic stress disorders.

Does trauma cause insomnia?

Yes, trauma can cause insomnia, as research shows that the neurochemicals associated with the stress and anxiety response in PTSD can remain present in the brain and can interrupt the sufferer’s normal sleep cycle. 

This kind of neurochemical disturbance in the brain can cause insomnia, bad dreams, and daytime fatigue and therefore sleep problems are common following a trauma.

Citations

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/trauma-and-sleep

https://www.sleepio.com/clinic/library/article/hypervigilance-when-falling-asleep-in-insomnia/#:~:text=It%20is%20widely%20held%20that,“turning%20off%20one%27s%20mind”.

Divya is currently a Clinical Psychology Trainee in a Master of Philosophy program and holds a Master’s in clinical psychology. She has a special interest in Personality studies and disorders, having researched the subject before, and Neuropsychology; with an additional interest being Mood disorders. She likes to write about Psychiatric issues, having worked in multiple specialty setups during her time as a clinical psychology student, and in her free time she likes to cook and read.

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