Alaska Sleep Education Center

PTSD and Sleep Apnea: What Military Families Should Know

Posted by Dr. Angela Randazzo on Oct 25, 2018 11:30:00 AM

What is PTSD?

"Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm."

With post-traumatic stress syndrome, stress induces over-stimulation where “the brain is flooded with neurochemicals that keep us awake, such as epinephrine and adrenaline, making it difficult to wind down at the end of the day. The neurochemicals remain present in the brain” and can interrupt your normal sleep cycle causing insomnia and bad dreams.

Perceptions and Symptoms of PTSD

Understanding the myths of PTSD is important in order to help yourself, a friend, or a loved one. Symptoms arise within the first three months of the event not immediately after the ordeal. War vets are not the only people affected by a post traumatic event. Many believe PTSD is living in the past with a mental weakness and they should get over the trauma.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) define three main symptoms in PTSD patients:

Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares;

  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma; and
  • Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.


Who Suffers from PTSD?  It is NOT just our Veterans

Besides war veterans, survivors of sexual abuse or physical assault, natural disasters, terror attacks, car accidents, or other serious events can trigger PTSD symptoms. The National Center of PTSD state women are more likely to develop PTSD than men with 7 of every 100 people experiencing PTSD at some point in their lives.


With all ages experiencing PTSD, some factors that are more likely to develop PTSD include:

  • Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma
  • Experienced other trauma earlier in life, such as childhood abuse
  • Working a job that increases your risk of being exposed to traumatic events
  • Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  • Having problems with substance misuse, such as excess drinking or drug use
  • Lacking a good support system of family and friends
  • Having blood relatives with mental health problems, including anxiety or depression


The Diagnosis of PTSD

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom (flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts);
  • At least one avoidance symptom (avoiding talking about or visiting a place that reminds them or takes them back to the traumatic event);
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (easily startled, feeling tense, or difficulty sleeping); and
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms (trouble remembering key features of the event, negatives thoughts about the world or self, distorted feelings of guilt or blame, or loss of interest in hobbies and activities)


Children 6 and under experiencing PTSD may wet the bed, experience night terrors, clinginess to parent, or reenacting the event at playtime. In extreme cases, children may stop talking.

Once diagnosed, a professional mental health physician who has PTSD treatment experience can provide the best care through psychotherapy (talk therapy) and/or medications. Lasting 6 to 12 weeks, psychotherapy can occur in a group or one-on-one. Different therapy methods include:


  • Teach about trauma and its effects
  • Use relaxation and anger control skills
  • Provide tips for better sleep, diet, and exercise habits
  • Help people identify and deal with guilt, shame, and other feelings about the event
  • Focus on changing how people react to their PTSD symptoms.


Living With PTSD

There are ways to create a calming bedroom by being aware of the five senses in your bedroom. A comfortable pillow, mattress, and sheets along with dark curtains, essential oils, and white noise or music can reduce insomnia. By creating feng shui in the bedroom, you can reduce instances of insomnia with taking care of the space you sleep.


  • Start with calm colors. Earth tones and cool coloring provide the healing energy feng shui supports.
  • Position the bed. Keep the bed in an area where you can see the entrance but far enough away that provides a tranquil balance.
  • Avoid clutter and distractions. Make certain the master bedroom is simple and clean but also free from past pain or negativity.
  • Remove the stress. The bedroom is a place for rest. Leave behind a loud television, a pile of work, and any exercise equipment. Use it for its main purpose: relaxation.


The Side Effects of PTSD

A common side effect from PTSD is depression that can create suicidal thoughts. If you know of someone who needs help immediately or who have talked about taking their life:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional.


Still searching for the solution? All of these can help an unrestful night in any bedroom but there are also professionals who can aid in your fight with insomnia when the answer is not easy.  Call the Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10 minute consultation.





Topics: life with sleep apnea, ptsd

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