AARP Guide to 10 Military Museums and Historic Sites Across the United States

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There is some evidence that people with PTSD, including veterans, often suffer from sleep problems and poor sleep, which can make it difficult for them to function and decrease their quality of life.


Insomnia can be a big challenge. Among active duty personnel with PTSD, research tells us that 92% have clinically significant insomnia, compared to 28% of those without PTSD.

Veterans with PTSD often suffer from nightmares, as 53% of combat veterans with PTSD report a significant nightmare problem. In fact, nightmares are one of the criteria used to diagnose PTSD. Often the nightmares are recurring and can be related to or replay the trauma experienced by the veteran. They can be frequent and occur several times a week.

Sleep problems can worsen the effects of PTSD and lead to more negative effects, including suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Insomnia is associated with an increased risk of suicide, even regardless of PTSD as a risk factor.

Prolonged or intense stress, such as that experienced during trauma or PTSD, is associated with a decrease in serotonin levels. The serotonergic system regulates the parts of the brain that deal with fear and worry. Low serotonin production disrupts sleep and often leads to more severe sleep disturbances, such as insomnia.

People with PTSD who experience these changes in brain chemistry may be hyper-vigilant, even while they sleep. This can make it difficult to fall asleep or maintain sleep. Too much adrenaline can make veterans feel wired at night and unable to relax and fall asleep. With high cortisol, there is a decrease in shortwave sleep and an increase in light sleep and wakefulness.

Courtesy of David Palka

Treating PTSD and Sleep Disorders

Seeking treatment for trauma-related sleep disorders is important for veterans. With treatment, Veterans can work to improve sleep difficulties and achieve more restful sleep. Treatment of veterans with PTSD may include:

1. Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is used to facilitate the treatment of a traumatic event. This can include therapies such as prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Although psychotherapy is not aimed directly at improving sleep, it can be effective in relieving PTSD and, in turn, symptoms of sleep disturbance due to PTSD.

2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy: With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Veterans With PTSD Discuss Their Sleep Patterns And Identify Opportunities For Improving Sleep Hygiene.

3. Sophrology: Often associated with meditation, sophrology is used to promote appeasement and a calm state of mind before bedtime. Ideally, relaxation therapy can alleviate hyperarousal so that veterans with PTSD can relax and fall asleep more easily.

4. Light therapy: Light therapy uses exposure to bright light to realign the circadian clock. With exposure to bright light during the day, your brain is better able to understand that it is daylight and that it is time to be alert. Light therapy patients often fall asleep more easily and sleep later.

5. Sleep restriction: Sleep restriction is controlled sleep deprivation, which limits the time spent in bed so that sleep occupies 85 to 90 percent of the time spent in bed.

6. Drugs and supplements: Medications are generally considered a last resort to solve sleep problems due to their potential side effects. Supplements of melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates the sleep cycle, can help patients sleep better. Medications, including sedatives and hypnotics, can be used if therapies and natural supplements are not effective.

AARP Guide to 10 Military Museums and Historic Sites Across the United States

Strategies and Techniques to Help Veterans Affected by PTSD Fall Asleep

Treatment of PTSD and related sleep disorders is essential. However, there are steps Veterans can take in addition to treatment that may alleviate sleep disturbances associated with PTSD. These include:

7. Sleep in a comforting place: Your sleeping environment should be a place where you feel safe and free from any triggers that could cause you to relive a trauma.

8. Ask your friends and family for help: Some people with PTSD feel safer and more comfortable sleeping with a trusted friend or family member in the same room or in an adjoining room.

9. Relax in the evening: Spend time in the evening before bed to relax after the day. If you take the time to relax and maintain a consistent bedtime routine, you can signal your brain that it’s time to sleep. This can be done by following the same steps before bed every night, ideally relaxing activities such as playing soft music, meditating, practicing muscle relaxation, taking a hot bath, or reading a book.

10. Configure the ideal sleeping environment: A night light can help you feel more comfortable sleeping in a dark room. If your sleeping environment can be noisy or disruptive, consider playing soft music or using a white noise machine to block out sounds that may make you jump. Make sure you control your room temperature and keep it between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. From your mattress to your bedding, make sure you know what keeps your spine aligned and alleviates any pressure points or additional issues you might be facing.

11. Give yourself plenty of time to sleep: Being in a hurry in the evening or in the morning can contribute to feelings of stress that can exacerbate sleep difficulties in veterans with PTSD. You shouldn’t feel like you don’t have enough time to sleep. Allow plenty of time to get enough rest, allowing extra time if you often have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night.

12. Listen to your body’s sleep signals: Following a trauma, you may need more sleep than expected. Listen to your body and go to bed when you feel ready to sleep. However, it’s important to avoid going to bed too early and staying awake for long periods of time.

13. Avoid activities that can interfere with sleep: Eating a heavy meal, drinking alcohol, consuming caffeine, taking a nap, or exercising a few hours before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid late night screens, including video games, TV, and mobile devices.

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