When you routinely can’t sleep, it’s very hard to function or feel good about life. Who isn’t miserable after an accumulation of sleepless nights? Unfortunately, insomnia and sleep problems are a frequent symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are also one of the more common reasons that many people with PTSD turn to substances like drugs and alcohol for relief.
At FHE Health, insomnia treatment is a first step in our therapeutic approach to PTSD. We’ve found that when patients are sleeping better, they can focus and engage well in their plan of treatment. Sleep is also a critical component of the healing process for both brain and body.
To treat insomnia and help restore sleep faster, we use the latest, cutting-edge brain technologies to train the brain for healthier function and self-regulation. That’s because a healthy, self-regulating brain knows how to sleep—it just needs a little extra help getting there after trauma and PTSD. In the next sections, we invite you to learn more about the link between PTSD and insomnia, how insomnia treatment works at FHE Health, and the results of neurorehabilitation for patients with sleep issues.
PTSD Sleep Problems and the Link Between PTSD and Insomnia
PTSD sleep problems can include various disturbances, from issues like falling asleep or staying asleep to poor, restless sleep. These disturbances are a symptom of the arousal and reactivity that are core features of PTSD. A diagnosis of PTSD (according to the DSM-V, the official diagnostic manual for mental health professionals) requires two or more symptoms of arousal, one of these being sleep disturbance.
Can PTSD Cause Insomnia?
Insomnia and sleep problems are common and may be associated with nightmares and safety concerns, or with generalized arousal levels that can interfere with the ability to get quality sleep. In fact, one of the earliest indicators of PTSD can be sleep disturbance in the form of nightmares, insomnia, and interrupted quality of sleep.
How Common Is Insomnia in People with PTSD?
A 2018 study* found that nine out of 10 people with PTSD suffer from insomnia. When a person is unable to relax, it is harder for them to fall asleep. Over time, the stress of not being able to fall asleep may lend itself to further problems, as the individual attempts to ameliorate these problems through maladaptive behaviors (napping during the day, alcohol and/or substance use, etc.).
Why Resolving Insomnia Is So Important
Resolving insomnia is important for multiple reasons. First, the presence of sleep problems can exacerbate PTSD symptoms, whereas most of the time, improving sleep results in improved PTSD symptoms.
Sleep is critical to mental health. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. In some cases, an inability to sleep for an extended period can cause not just severe depression but suicidal thoughts and behaviors—even psychosis.
Sleep is also tied to memory and the processing of emotional memories. A person needs sleep for the brain to sort out and process a traumatic event.
The Limitations of PTSD Sleep Medication
Sleep medications can provide some relief but have limitations. Most of these meds are meant for short-term use. Many of them have side effects and can be habit-forming and in some cases addictive. For example, what might begin as a temporary prescription for an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax can develop into a drug abuse problem.
How Neurotherapy Can Provide Relief from PTSD Insomnia
Sleep quality is an indication of underlying brain function. Neurotherapy is the process by which we guide or train the brain towards better functioning. Better sleep is a byproduct of this neuro rehabilitative process.
There are many regions of the brain involved in sleep regulation. Neurotherapy is training in neurological self-regulation, or training the brain how to regulate itself, bringing it into a less aroused, more relaxed state. When the nervous system is in a calmer state, sleep will improve. In fact, research conducted at FHE has shown that neurostimulation significantly improved sleep within just five sessions.
Our Insomnia Treatment Protocol and Its Results
“Neurostimulation” is a key part of our insomnia treatment protocol. In this section, you can learn how it works and its results.
How It Works
First, we meet with the person to get a brief history and symptoms which are currently a problem. We gather pre-treatment ratings on the most bothersome symptoms, including PTSD and sleep.
Next, we do individualized assessment to include a QEEG (brain map) and oftentimes additional neuropsychological testing (ERP testing). This assessment process allows us to pinpoint problems in the brain which may be contributing to PTSD symptoms and/or sleep disturbance.
Then we create an individualized neurostimulation treatment protocol. We gather symptom ratings for each symptom to track progress. After 15 treatment sessions, we repeat the QEEG and ERP testing. This is to examine the brain changes that have resulted from the treatment intervention. From there, we decide in consultation with the patient whether to continue neurostimulation treatments.
As stated above, research here at FHE has shown that neurostimulation significantly improved sleep within just five sessions. In one treatment group, average sleep rating decreased from a 5.44 pre-treatment, to 2.8 by session 5 (where 0 = no insomnia, 10 = severe insomnia). After just one session, this number dropped to 3.7.
Among current first responders who report the presence of PTSD and sleep disturbance, average sleep rating decreased from a 6.67 pre-treatment to a 1.667 by session 5. After just one session, this number dropped to a 2.667.
Are you suffering from PTSD-related insomnia? We may be able to help. Contact us today to learn more.
*Psychiatry Online, Focus, ‘VA/DOD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder: Clinician Summary | Published 19, Oct 2018.