PTSD & Insomnia
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It is a common condition, affecting millions of people worldwide.
Insomnia, on the other hand, is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Insomnia is a common symptom of PTSD and can further worsen the condition. In this blog, we will explore the relationship between PTSD and insomnia.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Traumatic events can include natural disasters, war, sexual assault, physical assault, or any event that involves a threat to a person’s safety or well-being. PTSD can develop immediately after the traumatic event or months or years later.
Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, intense distress when reminded of the traumatic event, avoidance of situations that remind the person of the event, and hypervigilance. These symptoms can significantly affect a person’s quality of life, and in severe cases, can impede their ability to live a normal and productive life.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. It can also cause a person to wake up too early and not be able to fall back asleep. Insomnia can be acute, lasting for a few days to a few weeks, or chronic, lasting for several months or even years.
Common causes of insomnia include stress, anxiety, depression, caffeine consumption, alcohol consumption, and certain medications. Symptoms of insomnia can include difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, and feeling tired or irritable during the day.
The Relationship between PTSD and Insomnia
Insomnia is a common symptom of PTSD, with up to 70 to 91 percent of people with PTSD reporting sleep disturbances. The relationship between PTSD and insomnia is bidirectional, meaning that each can contribute to or exacerbate the other.
For instance, the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD, such as heightened anxiety and hypervigilance, can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Nightmares and flashbacks, which are common symptoms of PTSD, can also disrupt sleep and contribute to insomnia.
On the other hand, insomnia has been known to exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD. Sleep deprivation can increase irritability, anxiety, and depression, which are all common symptoms of PTSD. Sleep deprivation can also impair cognitive functioning and stress tolerance, making it hard for individuals with PTSD to cope with traumatic memories and daily stressors.
This bidirectional relationship can contribute to increased chronicity of PTSD and lead to poor treatment outcomes.
Treating PTSD and Insomnia
Treatment for PTSD and insomnia often involves a combination of medication and therapy. Medications commonly prescribed for PTSD include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. These medications can help temporarily reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve sleep quality.
Therapy, on the other hand, aims to help individuals process trauma and identify and change unhelpful thoughts patterns and behaviors that contribute to PTSD symptoms. This leads to an overall improvement in symptoms, including insomnia.
Other interventions that can help alleviate symptoms of PTSD and promote better sleep quality include healthy sleep hygiene techniques, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, establishing a regular sleep schedule, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine. Some people may benefit from relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, and regular exercise.
PTSD & Ketamine Infusion Therapy
Recent years have seen growing interest in the therapeutic potential of ketamine, a medication that has traditionally been used for anesthesia during surgery. Emerging research indicates that, when administered in a controlled clinical setting, ketamine may provide significant relief for individuals suffering from PTSD.
The benefits of ketamine treatment for PTSD are due to its unique action on the brain’s glutamate system, which is different from conventional therapies like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
Unlike traditional medications that may take weeks to exert their effects, ketamine has shown to provide rapid relief, often within hours of administration. This rapid onset of action can be critical for individuals who are suffering from severe PTSD symptoms and need immediate relief.
Additionally, ketamine has demonstrated an ability to help “reset” neural connections in the brain. This could potentially alleviate PTSD symptoms by disrupting the neural pathways associated with traumatic memories. It’s also been shown to stimulate the growth of new synapses in the brain, promoting overall brain health and resilience.
EMDR Therapy & PTSD
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a specific type of therapy that can be particularly helpful for PTSD. EMDR focuses on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors that result from trauma. There are networks of communicating brain cells across many different areas in the brain, and that includes sections that involve memories and senses.
The networking makes it faster and easier for those areas to work together. That’s why senses such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings can bring back strong memories. During EMDR, memories of traumatic events are accessed in very specific ways. Combined with eye movements and guided instructions, accessing those memories helps reprocess what is remembered from traumatic events. That reprocessing helps “repair” the mental injury from that memory.
Remembering what happened will no longer feel like reliving it, and the related feelings will be much more manageable. EMDR therapy the day after ketamine treatment can be particularly helpful for those with trauma. There is enhanced neuroplasticity in the days after ketamine treatment, and this can help therapy be more effective.
Bita Tabasi, LPC-A, is currently trained in EMDR therapy and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. She works alongside Dr. Prashad to put together personalized treatment plans to best address the needs of each individual patient.
In conclusion, PTSD and insomnia are interconnected conditions that often influence each other and can significantly impact a person’s mental and physical health.
This bidirectional relationship can contribute to increased chronicity of PTSD symptoms and make treatment challenging. However, with the right combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, individuals with PTSD can learn to manage their symptoms and lead productive lives.