Why trauma will tire you out

Last month we looked at what happens to your body after a traumatic experience. What we uncovered was a chemical cascade that led to post-traumatic hyper-arousal and post-traumatic hyper-vigilance. 

Both of these states are appropriate immediately after a trauma as they are required to ensure survival. Post-traumatic hyper-arousal is a description of a stress response that gets your body firing on all cylinders to ensure your survival. Post-traumatic hyper-vigilance is a description of how this stress response causes your mind to race, again, to ensure you will survive.

The outcome of living in these states is both physical and mental fatigue. This is why it is common to feel exhausted after a violent trauma and why more rest is required to recover.

The Sleep Foundation recommends getting more sleep than usual after a trauma.

If getting enough sleep at night is difficult, then it is recommended that you take time to relax and rest for brief times throughout the day. Taking short naps (15-45 minutes) may help your body re-enter a more calm state of rest.

You can also follow these tips to help you fall asleep more easily.

Whether your trauma is very recent or happened a very long time ago, it is recommended that you check in with a trauma counselor and get professional help if needed.

Ask your GP or local police station for the details of a recommended trauma counselor in your area.

Sleep better on a new Sealy today

How to get your sleep back after a traumatic experience

South Africa’s crime rates mean that for many of our citizens getting a good night’s sleep is not as simple as it may be for others.

The threat of crime as well as the nervous system changes that happen after a traumatic event can become barriers to getting good sleep. When the nervous system is flooded with neurochemicals such as adrenaline and cortisone a new ‘higher’ resting rate is set and this is state is known as ‘post-traumatic hyperarousal’.

Trying to fall asleep whilst in this state can give rise to a myriad of sleep issues:

  1. Insomnia – difficulty falling and staying asleep due to flash backs and troubling thoughts.
  2. Anxiety – Night-time and darkness can exacerbate feelings of fear and foreboding. Anxiety can present with heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, nightmares and night sweats.
  3. Hypervigilance – Needing to check and double check that doors are locked and blinds are closed may add to multiple night wakings.

Although you did not choose to be a victim of crime, you can choose to take some steps towards your recovery.

Sleeping well starts with good sleep hygiene and a solid bedtime routine. However, in the case of sleeping after a traumatic event, there are some additional steps which should be taken.

  • Sleep where you feel safest – Avoid any room that you associate with the trauma, even if it is your bedroom. Consider co-sleeping if it could help you feel more safe.
  • Adapt your sleep environment – You may want to avoid a dark room and invest in a dim night light while on your road to recovery. Installing a panic button near your bed may also make you feel less helpless.
  • Practice a calming activity before bedtime – A warm bath, some quiet reading, or a few minutes of prayer or meditation can assist to calm your nervous system and help your body find the sleep it needs.
  • Avoid listening to or watching disturbing material – Watching the news or discussing your traumatic event before bedtime will only serve to exacerbate your sleep difficulties.
  • Climb into bed when you feel sleepy – Spending too much time in bed can make falling asleep more difficult. During the day, try to avoid napping and fit in some physical activity where possible to release feel-good hormones that promote night-time sleep.

These sleep tips and information were adapted from:

  1. Witness Justice, in partnership with the National Sleep Foundation,
  2. Barry Krakow of The Sleep and Human Health Institute and
  3. Gregory Belenky physician and a leading sleep researcher of the Walter Reed Institute of Research.

For more information you can follow this link on sleeping after trauma.

Sleep tips to help you get a good night’s rest.