Sleep, Trauma, and the Brain

sleep-and-brain-function-1024x530Trauma and Sleep

Article written by: Macie Stead MS, LMHC

Sleep is an often-underappreciated event by those who can do it well. Those who struggle with sleep problems- waking up too early, difficulties falling asleep, or intermittent sleep during the night- understand all too well how devastating lack of quality sleep can be. Now, consider someone who has experienced a traumatic event, their brain and body is out of sync with difficulties finding a cohesive rhythm. Imagine a dance partner who continues to step on your toes and has serious problems keeping up with the beat. Sleep is all about rhythm, the circadian rhythm to be exact.

Circadian rhythm is the biological process of physical mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle that responds to light and darkness (National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), 2012). The circadian rhythm can impact sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, and body temperature; a malfunctioning rhythm can develop into sleep disorders and have been associated with obesity, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (NIGMS, 2012).

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) (2017) someone who has experienced trauma gets an increased boost of epinephrine and adrenaline which can negatively impact a normal sleep cycle. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) (2017) common sleep problems after trauma can include: flashbacks, frightening thoughts, high levels of alertness, fear of nighttime and darkness, and nightmares. Sometimes people will turn to drugs or alcohol to numb themselves mentally and physically; however, drugs and alcohol are proven to impact the healing process and make sleep problems worse.

What are some options for sleep problems if you have experienced a traumatic event?

  • Don’t watch the news before bed
  • Take a warm bath
  • Do not eat or drink before bed
  • Sleep somewhere you feel safe: make it calm, quiet, cool, and comfortable
  • Try to relax and do something soothing before bed
  • Avoid coffee and caffeine in the afternoon
  • Napping can interrupt your sleep cycle, do so sparingly, but rest when you need to between 15-45 minutes, and not too late in the day
  • Avoid activities that are high in physical or mental energy; avoid talking about trauma experiences before bed.
  • Seek professional counseling to address symptoms of the trauma
  • If symptoms persist, there are medications that can be prescribed that can aid in sleep without making you feel groggy the next morning.

Sleep tips and information were created by Witness Justice, in partnership with the National Sleep Foundation, Dr. Barry Krakow of The Sleep and Human Health Institute and Dr. Gregory Belenky of the physician and a leading sleep researcher of the Walter Reed Institute of Research.

Published by Macie Stead MS, LMHC

My name is Macie Stead and I am a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) from Spokane Valley, WA. I have been in the mental health field for the past 10 years, a licensed counselor for 6 years. I hold a BA from Whitworth University in Psychology, a Masters in Mental Health Counseling from Walden University, and ABD for PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. My Goal is Your Goal There are many options for counselors, and finding the right fit for YOU, is crucial. I would like to offer an experience that promotes empowerment, community, and growth. I am passionate about the complexity of human nature, counseling, and psychology. I believe that people have the power and ability to make positive change. I do not judge or place value biases on others. I accept people for who they are and where they want to be. It is a privilege to work with people on new ways of approaching the world, and yes, tackling the old patterns that get us stuck. My approach and role in counseling is active and engaged, so no endless “couch therapy”. I want you to meet your goals and not feel reliant on counseling forever. Those I work with develop the process and tools to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. I work collaboratively with clients using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT + and TF-CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT. I am an active member of the American Counseling Association (ACA), and the American Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) division. I am also a Nationally Board Certified Counselor (NCC) by the NBCC. In addition to counseling services; I have specialized training in education, consultation, and supervision. I meet state requirements in WA to provide clinical supervision for mental health professionals.

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