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PTSD and Sleep Deprivation

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Surveys suggest that 70 to 90% of people with PTSD suffer from sleep deprivation, with veterans falling in the higher numbers. This inability to fall asleep or stay asleep often leads to difficulty dealing with daily life. The major causes of lack of sleep include hyper-vigilance, nightmares, fear of going to sleep, guilt, substance abuse, stress and physical as well as emotional pain.

Hyper-vigilance appears due to the need to stay alert against potential danger.  In the case of combat veterans, both training and experience underscore the necessity of being alert to stay alive. Once ingrained for several months or years, the habit of being constantly on one’s guard causes major difficulty in falling asleep.  Add to that, the fact that the brain activated certain chemicals to assist alertness makes it not only difficult to go to sleep but remain so.

Nightmares and flashbacks are major complaints of those suffering from PTSD. Combat veterans, of course, are subject to many horrific events leading to nightmares and flashbacks, both of which not only interfere with sound sleep, but cause the sufferer to postpone sleep in order to avoid bad dreams or experiencing another flashback.

Many veterans have suffered injuries while in combat and the residual pain from those injuries keep them from sleeping well. They may also have guilt that they lived while friends in their unit died or that they are a burden to their loved ones.

The results of sleep deprivation are not surprising.  They not only include fatigue, but increased panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, smoking, memory problems, impairment of judgement and suicidal thoughts. In other words, those who suffer from sleep deprivation are at more risk for medical problems and damaging behavior.

Health professionals are trying many kinds of treatment, not only for the disorder itself, but for the loss of sleep connected with it.  Most of these treatments involve both medicine and counseling.  One new medicine, for instance, Prazosin, has proved to help prevent nightmares for patients with PTSD.

In addition, two interesting studies are being further examined for validity.  One showed that subjects given a sense of safety slept better than those given techniques to simply to reduce fear.  From that study, researchers concluded that sleep loss was less about fear and more about feeling safe. The second study showed that PTSD and subsequent sleep deprivation produced a vicious circle in which the lack of sleep either produced PTSD or made the existing problem worse. As a result of these two studies, counselors and physicians are concentrating on finding more ways to help their patients reduce stress and create personal environments that feel safer to them.

If you are a veteran experiencing symptoms of PTSD that are causing difficulties in your life, contact us.  We may have the answers you need.

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    Mt. Pleasant, MI

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