How Sleep Can Help PTSD


Man sleeping

When the American Psychological Association added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980, it was a somewhat controversial addition. However, humans have been coping with trauma and its effects for millennia. It’s only in recent years that we’ve come to understand how the experience of trauma can have long-lasting impacts on our mental health, and what we can do to mitigate the impacts of trauma on our wellbeing.

What Causes PTSD

PTSD occurs when a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as the sudden death of a loved one, an accident, assault or even a prolonged and acutely stressful experience, like combat in a warzone, a bitter divorce or unrelenting pain. Not everyone who endures these events will develop PTSD, but for those who do, they may be dealing with mental health issues for months or even years.

Understanding PTSD Symptoms

PTSD can present in a number of ways. Common symptoms include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of the event (flashbacks)
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Avoidance of thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Always anticipating danger (hypervigilance)

For some people, their PTSD can interfere with their relationships or their ability to function normally.

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.

Can Sleep Help Prevent PTSD?

Therapy can be a valuable tool for people suffering from PTSD, and over time a mental health counselor or psychologist can help a person with PTSD recover. However, researchers suggest that sleeping within the first 24 hours of exposure to trauma can help negate the likelihood of developing PTSD.

Sleep helps us to process memories. Scientists believe that sleep can aid in processing traumatic events, weakening emotions tied to the memory of the event and contextualizing the memory and storing it as information.