June 7, 2023

Trauma and Sleep Difficulties: Understanding the Impact and Seeking Solutions

Sleep is an essential aspect of our overall well-being, allowing our bodies and minds to rest, recover, and recharge. However, for individuals who have experienced trauma, sleep can become a challenging and elusive endeavour. The relationship between trauma and sleep difficulties is well-documented, and understanding this connection is crucial for both individuals experiencing sleep issues and their loved ones. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of trauma-related sleep difficulties, the impact of trauma on sleep quality, coping mechanisms, available therapies, and natural remedies to address these issues. Whether you are seeking answers for yourself or trying to support someone you care about, this article aims to provide valuable insights into the complex relationship between trauma and sleep difficulties.

What is the Relationship between Trauma and Sleep Difficulties?

Trauma, defined as a distressing or disturbing experience, can have a profound impact on various aspects of an individual's life, including their sleep. Research has shown that trauma is strongly associated with sleep difficulties, with individuals experiencing higher rates of insomnia, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and sleep-related disorders. The effects of trauma can disrupt normal sleep patterns, leading to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or achieving restful sleep. This connection between trauma and sleep difficulties highlights the need for comprehensive approaches to address both the underlying trauma and its impact on sleep.

Most Common Sleep Difficulties Experienced by Individuals with Trauma

Individuals with trauma may encounter a range of sleep difficulties. Insomnia, characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, is a common complaint. Additionally, nightmares and night terrors can be distressing manifestations of trauma during sleep. Sleep disturbances, such as excessive tossing and turning, vivid or intrusive memories, and hyperarousal, are also prevalent. Sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, may be more prevalent among trauma survivors. These sleep difficulties can significantly impact an individual's quality of life and overall well-being.

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How Does Trauma Impact Sleep Quality?

Trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on sleep quality. The hyperarousal response associated with trauma often leads to heightened vigilance and difficulty relaxing, making it challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep. Traumatic memories and intrusive thoughts can also disrupt sleep, causing nightmares and night sweats. Additionally, the emotional and psychological toll of trauma can contribute to anxiety and depression, both of which can further disrupt sleep patterns. The complex interplay between trauma and sleep highlights the need for targeted interventions to address these challenges.

Can Sleep Difficulties be a Symptom of Trauma?

Yes, sleep difficulties can indeed be a symptom of trauma. In fact, sleep disturbances are listed as one of the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sleep difficulties can manifest as a direct result of the traumatic experience, as well as a residual symptom of the underlying trauma. Therefore, it is essential to recognize sleep difficulties as potential indicators of trauma and seek appropriate support and treatment.

Coping Mechanisms for Sleep Difficulties Related to Trauma?

There are various coping mechanisms that can help individuals with sleep difficulties related to trauma. Establishing a consistent sleep routine and creating a relaxing bedtime environment can promote better sleep hygiene. Engaging in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or guided imagery, can help calm the mind and prepare for sleep. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and electronic devices before bedtime is also recommended. Additionally, engaging in regular physical exercise, seeking social support, and practicing stress management techniques can contribute to improved sleep.

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Can Therapy Help with Sleep Difficulties Related to Trauma?

Yes, therapy can be an invaluable resource for individuals experiencing sleep difficulties related to trauma. Trauma-focused therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), have shown promising results in addressing both trauma and sleep difficulties. CBT can help individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to sleep difficulties, while EMDR focuses on processing traumatic memories and reducing their impact on sleep. These evidence-based therapies, when conducted by a qualified professional, can provide individuals with effective tools and strategies to manage their trauma-related sleep difficulties and improve overall sleep quality.

In Ontario (Canada), individuals seeking professional help for trauma-related sleep difficulties can turn to the Archways Centre for CBT. Archways is a private psychology clinic located in London, Ontario, dedicated to providing evidence-based therapies grounded in cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT) to help adults, adolescents, and children improve their lives. With a team of experienced psychologists and therapists, Archways offers a comprehensive approach to addressing trauma and sleep difficulties, tailoring treatment plans to meet the unique needs of each individual.

When it comes to sleep difficulties related to trauma, a combination of therapy and self-care practices is often the most effective approach. Working with a skilled psychologist can provide individuals with a safe and supportive space to process their trauma, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and explore strategies to improve sleep. By addressing the traumatic event through implementing therapeutic techniques, individuals can gradually regain control over their sleep and overall well-being.

Medications for Sleep Difficulties Related to Trauma

While therapy is a primary avenue for treatment, it's important to mention that medication can also be prescribed in certain cases to manage sleep difficulties related to trauma. Psychiatric medications, such as antidepressants or sleep aids, may be considered under the guidance of a healthcare professional. However, medication should always be approached cautiously and used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes therapy and other supportive strategies.

Are there any natural remedies that can help with sleep difficulties related to trauma?

In addition to therapy and medication, there are natural remedies that can complement the treatment of sleep difficulties related to trauma. These include practices like mindfulness meditation, relaxation exercises, aromatherapy, and herbal supplements such as chamomile or valerian root. While these remedies may offer temporary relief, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified naturopath to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Can sleep difficulties related to trauma be resolved over time?

It's important to note that resolving sleep difficulties related to trauma takes time and patience. Each individual's journey toward healing is unique, and progress may vary. With the right support, treatment, and self-care practices, individuals can experience gradual improvements in their sleep patterns and overall well-being. It's crucial to maintain realistic expectations and continue seeking professional guidance as needed.

How can loved ones support someone with sleep difficulties related to trauma?

If you have a loved one experiencing sleep difficulties related to trauma, your support, and understanding can make a significant difference. Offer a listening ear, encourage them to seek professional help, and educate themselves about trauma and its effects on sleep. Be patient, as recovery takes time, and remind them that they are not alone in their journey. By being present and supportive, you can help create a safe and nurturing environment for their healing.


Trauma and sleep difficulties are intricately linked, with trauma often leading to disruptive sleep patterns and sleep-related disorders. However, there are effective strategies and treatments available to help individuals manage and overcome these challenges. Through therapy, self-care practices, and the support of loved ones, individuals can take steps toward restoring healthy sleep and finding healing from their traumatic experiences. Remember, seeking professional help from organizations like Archways can provide valuable guidance and resources to navigate this journey toward better sleep and overall well-being.

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