Can You Sleep Off Trauma?

Trauma can disrupt your entire life—leaving you sleepless, anxious, and unable to focus. 

It’s true for one-time experiences (like escaping from a wildfire) or everyday experiences (like working as a first responder). 

If you’ve experienced past or current trauma, recovery takes time and can require support from many angles.

But the beautiful thing is that even small steps can move you in the direction of healing.

That’s why I want to share some encouraging research that was just released from Washington State University. Researchers used a rodent model of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to evaluate sleep, memory, and behavior. Here was the big takeaway:

  • Increasing the amount of time spent asleep immediately after a traumatic experience may ease some of the negative consequences of trauma.

Basically, the rats who were stimulated to sleep more after trauma had better memory and behavior than those who slept less. It’s also helpful to know:

  • It may be that the most important time to sleep is immediately after a traumatic experience (but we don’t know for sure what the critical window of time might be)
  • The benefits of sleep may partly come from periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
  • Some medications (like SSRI antidepressants) suppress REM sleep

Sleep is a time of healing and recovery. If you have a particularly stressful job or other stressful situations in your life, sleep becomes even more important for your health. 

There are a lot of things you can do to improve your sleep that do not require medications. You can make changes to your evening routine and bedroom atmosphere or look closely at the foods and drinks you’re consuming at night. 

Plus, some people benefit from gentle herbs or supplements to support better sleep. 

If you know you need to sleep more soundly for your health but just don’t know how to make that happen, let’s have a conversation about it. Schedule some time for us to meet over Zoom

Christopher J. Davis, William M. Vanderheyden. Optogenetic sleep enhancement improves fear-associated memory processing following trauma exposure in rats. Scientific Reports. 2020; 10 (1).  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-75237-9