You’ve heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and perhaps you quickly associate it with people in the military. (I know I do - or I did.) While that’s most certainly, and unfortunately, millions of people outside the military experience the disorder too. It can affect anyone after a life-altering event such as (but certainly not limited to):
Serious health problems
Loss of a loved one
PTSD is a heightened arousal state that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event. If left untreated, PTSD worsens over time. Unfortunately, many people don’t even realize they have it until many months after the event.
Why People With PTSD Have Trouble Sleeping
Those suffering from PTSD often find it difficult to fall asleep and have poor sleep quality, waking up several times throughout the night. When your body doesn’t go through the four sleep cycles adequately, you wake up feeling exhausted, which exacerbates the issue. The fourth cycle, REM, is typically the interrupted sleep stage, which isn’t helpful either. During REM sleep, your brain processes and deals with traumatic memories, so if you skip REM sleep, your brain isn’t given a chance.
The most common sleep disorders accompanying PTSD include:
Night Terrors and Nightmares: As you can imagine, most people with PTSD also suffer from night terrors and nightmares surrounding the traumatic event, causing them to wake often. And after waking from a horrible dream, it’s typically tough to fall back to sleep, leading to poor sleep quality and insufficient sleep.
Insomnia:One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is hyperarousal, meaning the person cannot relax. And if you can’t relax, you’re not going to be able to fall asleep. Hence: insomnia.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA occurs when your throat muscles relax and block your airway while you sleep. The most common symptom of OSA is loud snoring, but it could also cause you to stop breathing, gasp, and choke, leading to an abrupt and unpleasant awakening. The connection between OSA and PTSD isn’t exactly clear, but it could be linked to substance abuse or chronic hyperarousal.
Finding Help for PTSD
There are several treatments for PTSD, including prescription medications, psychotherapy, and the use of a weighted blanket. Your PTSD treatment may include one of the following or include a combination of several options. No matter which PTSD treatment you and your therapist choose, a weighted blanket is an excellent addition to any treatment plan.
But before we get into that, let’s take a look at your psychotherapy and prescription options.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): This form of psychotherapy focuses on the likelihood that you weren’t able to fully process what happened to you immediately following the traumatic event. As time goes on, you may develop unhealthy thought patterns like the event was your fault or that you can’t trust anyone ever again.
CPT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), otherwise known as “talk therapy,” that helps you identify those unhealthy thoughts and restructure your thinking to become more positive and realistic. Typically, CPT lasts for 12 sessions, but that depends on your situation.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Much like CPT, prolonged exposure therapy aims to restructure your thinking patterns and behaviors you may develop after a trauma. Your therapist may educate you on what to look for in terms of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors then work with you to develop healthy calming and coping skills.
Your therapist will address issues that trigger your PTSD symptoms throughout prolonged exposure therapy, starting from the least triggering and working up to the most. As you work through each one, your therapist will help you practice the self-calming and coping skills you developed, only moving on to the next one once you feel you’ve effectively worked through the previous.
This type of psychotherapy typically takes place for several months but has been proven highly effective.
Neurological Therapy Treatments for PTSD
Some treatments for PTSD are more in-depth and focus on the brain and nervous system to reduce symptoms.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This neurological PTSD treatment interrupts and repatterns your trauma memories through repetitive eye movements. When you undergo EMDR, you talk with your therapist about the details of a specific memory while they guide you through a series of eye movements. As you experience this type of therapy, you learn to reframe that same memory more positively.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): Like acupuncture, EFT is a massage PTSD treatment using physical pressure on sensitive points to relieve muscle tension. Typically, EFT takes between four and ten sessions to complete in which a trained therapist teaches you how to tap rhythms on your face, head, hands, and collarbones while you reframe your traumatic event memories.
EFT has been proven to reduce symptoms of PTSD, including depression, anxiety, and pain.
Prescription Medication Treatments for PTSD
If you and your therapist decide antidepressants can help reduce your PTSD symptoms, they’ll typically prescribe one of the following:
It’s important to discuss these medication options with your doctor, including their possible side effects.
Using a Weighted Blanket for PTSD
The sole purpose of a weighted blanket is to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. This goes for anyone, whether you have PTSD or not. Because those who have PTSD have a high-stress level throughout the day and at bedtime, a weighted blanket is an excellent tool to deliver better sleep.
The magic of weighted blankets lies in the Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) they provide. DPS is a slight pressure on the body - like a comforting full-body hug. It helps your body produce the necessary hormones it needs to feel calm and comforted, eliminating stress and allowing you to fall asleep. And because you spend the night under the comfort of a weighted blanket, that DPS works all night long, helping you stay asleep longer.
Serotonin is your “happy hormone.” This lovely hormone helps you feel safe, calm, and happy. And guess what? You need it to fall asleep. And guess what delivers serotonin? You guessed it - weighted blankets.
Cortisol is your stress hormone. When you have PTSD, your cortisol levels are high at any time of day. When your cortisol levels are high, it’s tough to fall asleep. Guess what helps reduce cortisol levels? Yup, weighted blankets.
Melatonin is your “sleepy hormone.” Your body naturally produces more of this as the sun sets, but when you have PTSD, your cortisol levels act in opposition, eliminating the production of the necessary melatonin you need to help you fall asleep. Guess what helps produce melatonin? You guessed it—weighted blankets.
Weighted blankets are an excellent addition to any PTSD treatment you may receive. They aren’t only highly effective, but they are a natural, non-toxic way to feel relief from your symptoms. As always, it’s best to consult your doctor before using a weighted blanket. But once they give you the go-ahead, make sure you choose a weighted blanket constructed of the highest quality, non-toxic, breathable materials and high-quality construction.