It may seem the techniques that were offered in our Nighttime 101 Guide are a bit more on the advanced side as they compare to what's about to be presented in Nighttime 201. So, why would they have come first when these are more simplistic, quicker fixes? Well, we recognize that the techniques mentioned in Nighttime 101 do take a more in-depth understanding and require a greater effort overall, but we really feel that for survivors with Complex PTSD, that approach to sleep is truly your first line of defense. It is your foundation. If you cannot successfully apply some of those tools, your sleep could remain interrupted and fitful - even if you completed every single item on this list. The tips and tricks here feel a bit more like icing on the cake; things to add to your already-stable base that will improve the quality of the rest you may finally be getting. It's possible that some of these could actually become a part of your foundation, particularly if they tackle a critical issue that's been keeping you up. But, for the most part, none of these alone will be the key that unlocks decades of restlessness for you. They're likely to improve what you've already been working on, tie up loose ends and settle any of the hiccups still causing you grief. We do, however, think that these tips and ideas can be incredibly beneficial to consider and will still make a world of difference for so many of you. Sometimes the simplest of steps can make some of the largest differences in this complicated fight for good sleep.
So, here is a list of several additional things you can do that may lead to safer, more comfortable, restorative, and peaceful rest.
- Make your room, and your bed, an inviting place to be. If your room is full of clutter, food, your school or work items; or is comprised of drab colors, lifeless pillows, or contains only the bare bones necessary to call it a bedroom? How is your poor mind ever supposed to want to be there for several hours? How is it supposed to feel calm and secure and nurtured? Warm it up. Make it a place that welcomes you, pulls you in, is a place you want to be. Keep it decluttered, refreshing, and not too busy. Try not to bring things into it that wind you up or stress you out -like work or school. Create a sea of fluffy pillows, cozy blankets, soft colors. Maybe add a few nice pictures or go real crazy and buy some new drapery that makes it look like you really know what you're doing in there. ;) Try out a simple DIY project that makes you proud of yourself and what you've done with the space. (And hey, not crafty at all? All the more reason to create something just for you! Because not only will you be even more proud of what you were able to make, you'll always be reminded of the fact you believed you were worth that effort! Because you are!) Even with the smallest of budgets, it's possible to take a space you've sorely neglected and transform it into your perfect, personalized little oasis. And, this seemingly insignificant change to where you rest your head can actually do wonders for your mind and body - which leads to more Zzz's.
- Use signs or pictures near your bed to help with grounding. Put notes and personalized reminders right where you can see them from your space on the bed. Create a pretty sign for the wall, put a notecard or photo in a frame that stays on your nightstand, decorate the ceiling if you have to! Make something that has the current year in bold lettering, along with with other grounding or reassuring statements that you need. Perhaps you need to elaborate further on where you are, how old you are, that you are safe now, a mantra that settles or re-centers you - anything that you know you'll need to see the moment you open your eyes. So, whether you wake from a nightmare, re-open your eyes as you're drifting, or are wrestling with flashbacks during the night - having those reminders right where you can see them without having to work too hard to find them can really be the thing that helps you until you're in a better place to help yourself.
- Make a music playlist just for sleep. The options here are limitless. Some like calming versions of songs they even enjoy during the daytime, while others go for ambient music made just for sleep, classical sonatas, or even kids' lullaby music. If you have child parts inside, sometimes an album full of kids' music (or just sprinkling a song or six into your otherwise adult playlist) can be great for all of you as a unit. Whether you find a Fisher Price or Baby Mozart album made with newborns and young children in mind, pretty Helen Jane Long albums, any of Sleeping At Last's instrumental tracks, or songs from your favorite film score; there is such a wide range of music out there that can help you strike a balance between adult and childlike music. ..no matter which end of that spectrum you'd like to fall on. Even if you don't have parts inside, you'd be amazed how much lullaby-esque songs can soothe even the toughest of adults, sending them peacefully into dreamland.
Some individuals prefer there be lyrics, so as to keep their mind engaged and less likely to drift into dark places, while others need zero lyrics because they keep them awake or cause them sing along ;) Whatever you need is just right and is definitely out there with a little bit of effort! Change it up weekly if you need, or keep it exactly the same so that your body always knows it's time to rest when you hear it. And? If you sleep with a partner who's anti-tunes, the lightest little bit of quiet music from beneath your pillow can still be more than enough to reach you. Headphones/earbuds are also an option, but we'll hit on those later!
- Discover podcasts, Spotify playlists, or white noise apps that really appeal to you. The internet and smartphones/iPods have changed the game in helping people get some sleep - particularly if they cannot staaaaand silence, yet outside noise keeps them up. Entire Spotify playlists exist just for sleep. There are apps upon apps upon apps that contain soothing sounds or "white noise" options specifically designed to help you rest easier. And if music isn't your thing but a flashing TV is too much, podcasts might be your solution. Find one you love, one that bores you to tears, or is a happy medium between fascinating and something you aren't too invested in - that way you can stop listening and fall asleep without being sad you missed something important. Podcasts without massive highs and lows in volume or content that could be stressful are most recommended. Some of us find that the podcast A Way With Words fits that bill nicely :) But there are tons out there for you to discover.
- Consider buying some darkening curtains/blinds. If you are super light-sensitive or find you're only able to sleep during the day, a set of darkening curtains/blinds can be a lifesaver. And the good news is, inexpensive stores like Walmart and Target even have some great options now. We're sure other outlets or discount fabric stores would have even more impressive prices, but you don't have to completely break the bank for darkening curtains anymore.
- Conversely, buy lighter blinds if you have a hard time waking up or like to sleep all day as an escape. We all want our blinds closed at night so no one can see in, but if you're prone to sleeping in all day or struggle with depression to the point it keeps you returning to that bed in the daytime - some lighter blinds may be what you need. A bright, sunny room is harder for many to sleep in, but it also helps keep your internal clock more aware of the time of day - willing you to stay awake. Staying on a proper sleep|wake schedule during the day can make resting at night a much better experience.
- Consider going to bed with a full tummy. We know traditional sleep guides (and whack diet advise columns) insist on not eating an hour or more before bed. Whether they claim it gives you bad dreams or makes you gain weight, little to no science agrees. And when it comes to Complex PTSD specifically, for many survivors, an empty stomach can be upsetting for a number of reasons. Some grew up rather poor and had to go to bed hungry each night. Others were plainly denied food as punishment or as part of their abuse. Many survivors have struggled severely with eating disorders, and may even still be struggling. Some simply just could not eat after trauma when they were young, or wouldn't do so before bed if they thought trauma was imminent because it made them sick. Alllllll of these reasons and countless others can be terrible reminders of trauma, pain and sickness - and the simple growl of your stomach as you try to go to sleep can signal to your mind and body that you aren't okay. Something as simple as heading to bed with a satisfied, or even full, tummy can lead many to feel more secure, and thusly safe enough to disengage for rest. And, eating a bit before bed can even lead some to just naturally get sleepier, solely because their body is no longer trying to get their attention to tell them they're hungry. Imagine that!
- Try not to drink too much right before bed. Conversely to above, drinking too much before you head to bed can not only make you feel a little sloshy when you lay down, but it frequently leads to that midnight bathroom run. Sometimes just KNOWING you'll need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night can keep you restless and unable to fall asleep as easily just because you're on alert - anticipating when it's time to "go". And, above all, once you've had to get up to make that pit stop, it can sometimes be nearly impossible for sooooo many of you to get back to sleep. We don't want that for you.
- Make sure to listen to what YOU need, not just what someone else tells you is good or bad to do before bed - including us! There are countless guides out there telling you what to do and not to do at night. Whether it's the ones that say don't eat before bed, to never sleep with a TV on, not to drink ANY caffeine 12 hours (or whatever arbitrary number) before bed, don't exercise or be active at night, or any other seemingly sound rule -- no rule is gospel. And that includes ours! Some can drink coffee RIGHT up until the second they lay down without the slightest disturbance. Others require a TV on. And, someone else may not even be able to tolerate laying down without having a huge mug of their favorite beverage first. Listen to your needs and know that your body may be more or less sensitive to certain things than others'. No matter what someone else insists is the root of your sleep problems, they might not be right. And only you can know that. We provide suggestions based on what we've seen in so very many survivors - but wholly recognize that it won't apply to each and every one of you. Feel free to pass on those that don't! You know you better than we (or anyone else out there) ever could. Try out new things - as you may be surprised by their effectiveness, or your ability to adjust to something you thought you'd hate but really helps - but ultimately do what your body needs.
- Invest in nicer pillows, throw blankets, or comfort items. Not only do some of these items make your room LOOK nicer and more inviting, they are actually comforting to your physical body and mind together. They make you eager to lay down in your now very gorgeous bed. The sense of being able to flop down on pure comfort, or cozy up in the softest, snuggliest of blankets, just automatically makes your body want to relax and let its guard down for the night. Don't have much money? Sometimes something as simple as buying some extra stuffing for 3 bucks on Amazon (especially if you have, or want to buy, pillows that zip close) that you can use to fluff up your pillows to your own desired squishiness can make a dramatic difference in the coziness of your bed. Sure beats a flat and sad pillow. ;) So Fluffy. Much Pinterest.
- Pajamas. In the same spirit, get yourself some nice pajamas or underclothes for sleep -- something you can't wait to get into and that immediately makes you feel ready for bed. Ragged T-shirts and basic cotton bottoms can get the job done, but if you're really struggling to sleep, sometimes just taking a little more interest in you and what you wear can be a game-changer. It's also about self-care. Not only do you just feel snuggly in your nice, new PJs, you also feel taken care of. ...reminded that you are worth the rest you are about to get. You are worth more than just that disheveled tee and holey pants you've been wearing for years. If you have an impossible time feeling motivated to lay down, a new set of nice PJs can make you a bit more eager to get started so you can be in those comfy clothes sooner. [As an aside, they don't even have to be FANCY pajamas by any stretch. Sometimes just getting something new is enough. It feels fresh. It feels different. It feels special. Too many of us have been in the same haggard jammies for yeeeeeears. A simple item or two can spruce things up a lot and remind you that you deserve to be comfortable. You're worthy of good sleep.]
- Linen sprays or fragrance/oils. If you aren't a fancy schmancy homemaker, you might not have even known there's such a thing as linen sprays. But, boy, are they a thing! There are so many fragrances you can put on your linens that just call to you - inviting you to breathe them in deeply and just melt into them deeper as you exhale. Isn't that what we all WANT to feel when we hit the bed for the first time after a long day? Find a fragrance that does that for you. The same is true with essential oils or other items that produce fragrance. Whether you believe in the natural calming properties of various essential oils or not, some of the scents alone can just take you to a nice and relaxed state that speaks directly to you and your needs.
- Light a candle a bit before bed that will leave your room with a pleasant aroma. We don't want you to leave candles lit while you sleep, but sometimes lighting a candle for an hour or so before bed and blowing it out still leaves the room billowing with a fragrance you love. This is not only calming, pleasant, and/or inviting, it can be really grounding as a strong scent to keep you in the present.
- Consider purchasing a tiny child's stuffed animal or baby blanket - even as an adult. It may seem silly, but sometimes that younger you who feels so afraid of sleep can feel at ease by these little gestures. You're never too old, too cool, or too anything for a stuffed animal or small blanket. And, if you have internal parts, this simple "gift" can bring such wonderful comfort to you all.
- Try color breathing before bed or once you lay down. This is a wonderful way to calm down. Additional breathing techniques, especially those combined with visual imagery, may be equally as helpful if you have one you really like. You can also create your own technique! Yes, you are completely allowed to just make something up. Not every breathing technique has to come from a manual, guide, doctor, or study. Sometimes you know just what settles you best.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Here is one example, but there are many - some even come with audio recordings to lead you through.
- Healing light/healing pool imagery for pain. Healing light and healing pool, along with some other similar imagery-based techniques, can be critical skills in relieving physical pain that could be the root of what's keeping you up. You can read about those here. They can also just be so satisfyingly relaxing for mental distress, upsetting emotions, or to just relieve natural tension we all carry.
- Consider asking your therapist to make you a voice recording. They aren't hard to do anymore, as just about every smartphone has a record feature that can then be easily sent through email (or even text if it's short enough). The recording could be a guided imagery, various grounding statements, or just generalized comforting thoughts to lead you to sleep. Hearing them from your therapist can offer an added layer of security and calm that we can all use as we try to rest our eyes.
- Positive reinforcements and gratitudes. We mentioned something similar in our Nighttime 101 Guide, but that was a bit more specific to journaling practices before bed. This is something you can just do in your mind. If you are particularly restless, in an anxious or upset place, or just can't stop the recursive self-shaming that your mind wants to do as you rethink the day - consider trying to redirect your thoughts to naming 5 positive things about the day. They don't have to be groundbreaking, but they're there. You'll find them even on the worst of days. Similarly, you can think of 5 or 10 things you're thankful for - in general or even just that day. For others, you may want to pick 3-5 things you like about yourself or that you did right/well that day. Challenging other cognitive distortions may be an area someone else needs to focus on. Whatever you need most, just be sure to flip the script to this tone of thought and you'll be grateful for how much calmer and sleepier you feel.
- Do some light stretching before bed. Tension is a jerk. It causes pain, increases anxiety, steepens depressive feelings, and just plainly makes us miserable. Some slow stretching can get out the excess energy still zinging through your nervous system from the day, while also soothing and calming your body down for the night. It can loosen stiff muscles, un-pinch painful spots, and send fresh blood throughout your whole system so that your body can more effectively heal and repair itself during your period of rest.
- Temperature, pets, and outside influences. There are so many things outside of us that we can't control that keep us up, so anything we can do to tend to them before laying down we should definitely do. Double-check that the temperature will still be comfortable as night falls, your pets are where they need to be (with you or closed away in their sleeping area), family members are aware you're trying to turn down, your phone's notifications are silenced, any TV timers are set, you have any extra blankets or socks you may need already in reach, contacts are out, mouthguard is washed, makeup is off, meds are taken, etc etc. Literally double-check all the things that could make you have to get up after you've already snuggled in (or worse, already fallen asleep). Nooooooo one likes having to get up after they've already experienced that first wonderful sigh climbing into bed. The second time around is never nearly as satisfying, and if you were already asleep, getting back to sleep can be a nightmare on its own.
- Wash your sheets frequently. Simple, simple. Little is more inviting than fresh sheets to make your body feel peaceful and happy when you lay down. Crumbs, dirt or "stale" sheets aren't exactly the most welcoming invitation for your dreams and sleep. Wash 'em. You'll be glad you did.
- Consider buying a therapeutic pillow or (if you have the finances for it), a new mattress. This is certainly not in the realm of possibilities for everyone - and it's something most of us have all heard plenty of times. ...but sometimes the solution to poor sleep really does lie within your mattress and pillow. Given so many survivors with C-PTSD are also sufferers of chronic pain, a proper mattress and pillow that supports your head and neck sufficiently may be what you truly need.
- Invest in some soft and pliable earbuds. For many, aaany outside noise at all will wake them up or keep them from sleeping. But earplugs can be unsettling (all you hear is yourself breathing IN your ears), and many headphones aren't comfortable to sleep with. There are a few companies that make super soft and flimsy earbuds that have little to no hard plastic or metal at least inside your ear - and some even have fairly soft connecting pieces, so even if you laid on your side it wouldn't hurt your ears. We know that Samsung makes a few, but there are most assuredly other companies out there, too. This would not only allow you to listen to music/podcasts/recordings/white noise without bothering anyone else (particularly if you have a partner or have to sleep in a more public area for a trip or something) - but for those really sensitive to outside noise, earbuds ensure that you hear nothing else. The sounds you want to hear just get injected into your ears and fill your whole head with goodness and block out the outside - effectively shutting out the world and leaving you free to get the sleep you need. Now, some don't mind sleeping on even the hard earbuds (and we recommend giving it a go if you don't mind) - but if you can't take the discomfort, spending a little extra money for the softer ones might let you sleep through the night bot pain- and distraction-free.
- Look into information regarding blue light or the effect electronics can have on your sleep cycle. There is now a ton of literature on the way the 'blue light' from our electronics can affect brain activity, but more importantly, how it can alter the cadence of our sleep cycle. There are various ways to turn this off in our devices. If this is something that concerns you, something you want to learn more about, or if you just want to learn how to turn it off in your personal gadgets, you shouldn't have to google too far before you find just what you need. It could make a difference - particularly if you're someone who is more sensitive to it than you ever knew.
- Get browser extensions that won't allow you on certain apps/websites at certain times. Ha, yes, they exist out there! And there are plenty of them - for both computer and mobile - that are designed to meet your specific needs. These can be extremely helpful in getting you off youtube/social media/gaming websites if you just can't resist or are using them as a distraction to keep you from sleeping. Many allow you to set the time you need it run as an "every day at this time" function, or require you to turn them on when you need it and set it for hour or more, and most are created to ensure that even IF you uninstall it, the timer will still be in effect until it runs out. ...so you can't cheat by just getting rid of it! If you find yourself glued to your phone or computer when you should be sleeping (or working!), you may need to look into these extensions and apps that exist to help you out here.
- Better waking up. If you can wake up easier and more smoothly, you're much more likely to be ready to sleep when bedtime rolls around. If you have trouble sleeping TOO long, ignore your alarms, or return to bed during the day, we all know how this disrupts sleep rhythm and leaves you wide awake come nighttime. When it comes to waking... Set alarms that have music that MAKE you want to get up - invigorating fun music. Something that makes you happy. We don't like the idea of obnoxious, annoying alarms because that just puts you in a bad mood the second you open your eyes. ...or rather before you've even had a chance to open them! And that doesn't make aaaaanyone want to be awake. Start your day off right with something that makes you happy. And change it often so that happy-fun-new-alarm-that-you-love doesn't turn IN to something you hate! No one likes when a good song gets ruined! ;) Put your phone across the room so you have to get up to turn it off. Incentivize. If you get up and stay up, you get to have x treat. Remind yourself that if you're TRULY that exhausted by late afternoon, you are allowed take a short nap then. ...but not until you've given the day your best shot for a good while. You'll be surprised how ready to get up you actually were.
- Just. Get. Started. The hardest part of *any* task - absolutely any task whatsoever, including something as seemingly simple as heading to bed - is just getting started. Once you get up, begin your nighttime routine and start aiming for bed, you'll be baffled by just how ready for sleep you really were. ...no matter how sure you were that you were totally wired and sleep was nowhere in the near future. Just. get. started. Once you mentally "turn off" and start heading for the pillow, you'll be consistently impressed almost every night at just how much your body was craving the collapse. ..even though it was only mere seconds ago that you were convinced otherwise.
- Give it a shot anyway. Sufferers of chronic sleep disturbances are no stranger to the losing game of just not being able to sleep, no matter how hard they try. You can do everything right, but still be awake for ages after you lay down. But, after experiencing this so much over time, we can convince ourselves so confidently each night that "it's just not gonna happen tonight", because for so much of our lives it really hasn't. But this kneejerk response to how we THINK sleep will go can lead us to staying up far longer than necessary as we refuse to even entertain the idea of settling down yet. ...because "we just know". But our confirmation bias - looking for only the signs that prove we were right - can actually influence what our body believes, and lead it to respond in a way that keeps us running. WE can be the reason behind why we're still up because we just decided how our body was likely feeling, and it followed suit. But, sad to say, we're often wrong. Had we just given it a shot anyway, we would've actually been fast asleep by now. So, what's the worst that happens if you do give it a shot? You get nice and ready for bed and it's a no-go. Oh well. So you get up or do something in bed and try again later. But at least you're now cozier in your PJs and physically ready for bed. So the moment you are sleepy, you can just turn down right away instead of having to "wake yourself up" just to go get ready for bed. ...additionally running the risk of missing the window of opportunity we all know exists. But hey, the other possibility is that you might actually crash. You've been trained your whole life to ignore your body. You'd be amazed (and impressed) by how exhausted and ready for sleep it can actually be without you realizing it. You're very rarely going to regret trying, but you almost aaaalways regret waiting too long to try. ...especially the moment you go to wake up the next morning!
- Finally, we can't forget about things like journaling, internal communication, grounding, medication, and more (each discussed in our first post)! The suggestions here may be a bit easier to apply, but the skills there will be relevant and useful throughout your entire life - no matter where the home you live ing or the path life's taken you. Give those a look-see and don't forget their importance either :)
Now it's your turn! Because so many of these are much simpler, we are certain that many of you have toooons of other ideas just like 'em! Tell us, and the countless other survivors reading, what you do to get some sleep! What's the one thing you can't get to sleep without, or has made the biggest difference for you in your journey for better rest?
Getting Some Rest as a Complex Trauma Survivor
It’s no secret that survivors of trauma often have an incredibly difficult time with sleep. Whether that's due to experiencing terrible nightmares, night terrors or sleep paralysis; having a racing mind that won’t turn off; only feeling safe to sleep during the daytime; or wrestling with any of the countless complications surrounding bedtime — we know that the time of day most really look forward to can be one that fills many survivors with dread. We have accumulated, used and witnessed the success of many different tools and strategies over the years - tools that are designed to help trauma survivors not only get to sleep, but do so safely and stay asleep peacefully. In sharing some of them with you here, we hope it may even shift your overall approach to sleep, while ultimately leading to a much more secure and restorative rest. As an added bonus, you can also take away that you are not alone, crazy, or making too big a fuss out of “something so simple”. It’s not simple or you wouldn’t be struggling with it! Hopefully we can help with that and get you some long overdue rest.
We will tackle four main areas - Nighttime Routine, Journaling (both before bed and as a tool for nightmares), Internal Parts (for those with DID, but also still applicable to most), and Medication. Feel free to take what you need and just leave the rest. And please feel free to add your own experiences, struggles, and suggestions below. You may find that someone else has the perfect solution for your biggest challenge, or that by sharing your own experience you spark a light bulb in another that brings some clarity to their lifelong battle with sleep. So, don’t be shy. Your voice is valuable.
One staple skill for just about anyone to keep in their toolbox if they're fighting with sleep, is to create a nighttime routine. Whenever you take a series of deliberate, personalized steps about 30-60 minutes before bed - and do so night after night - you send an early signal to your mind and body that you plan to sleep soon. It learns that once you've begun step one, it’s time to start slowing down, settling your heart rate, and preparing to turn off and recharge shortly. And, as you are likely very familiar, most (C)PTSD minds are extremely hyperaware and vigilant for any sign of distress. So any early indicators you can give your mind that you plan to disengage (while also letting it know you’re taking intentional steps to ensure it will be safe to do so) can make a dramatic difference in it following through. ...and doing so by the time you're settled and would like to relax.
For many, this routine may start with taking nightly medications — which is a great place to start if you have any that are for sleep — that way they have time to take effect before your eyes are closing. Perhaps there are sitcoms or online videos you like to watch that help you unwind and get into a lighter place. If this kind of entertainment is an important part of your evening, it’s good to add those early in your routine so that you’ve had a solid 15-30 minutes without electronics before shuteye. This isn’t only a good idea because of the way digital devices keep our minds active and can affect sleep rhythm, but they are notoooorious for sucking us in and getting us to watch one more episode, scroll a little longer, or play just one more game. ...sometimes hours longer than we intended. ;) And if you're dissociative orrrr just really really avoiding sleep? I don’t think you need me to tell you that you can fall down a hole that's not easy to get out of. ;) So, enjoy these early on and continue with the rest of your bedtime routine. Get a snack, drink some tea or something calming. Feed your pets if you have them. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Take out your contacts. Put on your PJs. Set your clothes out or gather other items that you need for the next day. Do all the things that you need to be ready for bed while adding in any self-care items you aren’t currently doing that you think could be helpful to you and your sleep.
Once you’ve climbed into bed, we know that this can be the hardest part. Ease into it. Go ahead and plug in your phone, set your alarms for the next day, turn on any light music or white noise apps that you enjoy. Then instead of just closing your eyes, you’ll want to take some extra steps that are just for your mind. Whether that’s through journaling (discussed more below!) or mental imagery, do what you can to consciously put the day - and alllll its stressors and triggers - away. Then take some time to acknowledge to yourself where you are, the year, that you are an adult and that you are safe. Look around and do some self-talk reminding yourself of all the ways you are secure in your home and in your room, that no one can interrupt your rest in any unsafe way. If you have parts inside, go ahead and take time for them - making sure their needs are met and they are ready for bed as well. (More on this below!) Then spend a bit more time on pleasing imagery for yourself, whatever that may look like. Safe place imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, color breathing, or just envisioning a special place you’d like to be resting your head. Hopefully, it shouldn’t be too long before you drift.
While we know there can be other pitfalls to sleep that we’ll discuss in a moment, establishing a routine like this that you try really hard to follow in the same order each night can do wonders for your rest. Setting that rhythm and getting your mind, neurology, and whole body in sync can be a key in helping you get the sleep you aren’t currently getting. The more you can stick with it, the better the efficacy. But, hey, we know that life happens, it’s okay if it gets interrupted or you forget a step or two. It’s less about absolute perfection and more about the intentionality of taking gradual steps to walk away from high-alert and into a more settled and calm you.
Journaling to Help with Sleep
One of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep is to practice a coping skill called containment — and one of the most universal mediums for that is journaling. Containment allows you to temporarily “put away” upsetting or difficult thoughts and feelings by mindfully and consciously giving them a place to go. This way you can continue on with your day, or your rest, without those things intrusively revisiting you.
Everyone has experienced sleep made more difficult by even mild stress throughout the day, but triggers you've encountered, worries and fears you have about the upcoming day, memories you’ve been wrestling with, and all sorts of similarly challenging material can make it a million times harder. Taking a moment to write about some of these things gives your mind a chance to acknowledge and validate how much they are affecting you. (And this is important because it keeps you from stuffing them, or pretending they don’t exist or faze you, which nearly always leads to them thrusting themselves back into your awareness whenever they feel like it. ...any way to not be ignored or forgotten. That includes in your dreams.) But, more importantly than just validating the tough stuff, journaling also gives it a place to go. The journal gets to hold on to it, and when you shut the book, it's contained within its pages -- allowing your mind the freedom to concentrate on more pleasant, calming thoughts so you can drift to sleep faster. Thinking of it in this way, and making the conscious effort to believe the difficult items are contained tight within your journal until you want to revisit them (whether that means the next day, in therapy, or weeks from now), you're far less likely to have your dreams disturbed by their content. This skill is especially important if you’ve been triggered that day, are dealing with really difficult memories or therapy material, or have been having an excess of nightmares or unsettling dreams.
“How long should I journal?” “What should I write about?” “Won’t thinking about all the hard stuff right before I lay down just make me feel WORSE?” “I’m so tired before bed, I don’t have time for that, I just wanna sleep!” “I have never journaled before and I’m not a writer.”
Fear not, we’ve got some answers! Firstly, you don’t need to have ever journaled before to be able to benefit from or be “good” at this skill. Because the cool thing is, you don’t even need to write full sentences. In fact, many avid journalers can even get swept away in their storytelling and get themselves worked up and fully “in it” again. And we don’t want that before bed! So, some useful tips include not only setting a time limit for yourself, but consider keeping it a short one. If you want to do longer journaling (which we highly support and recommend!), you can do so any other time of the day! We just don’t want you to do that right before bed. Keeping it simple is just as effective and doesn’t get your neurological system all revved up and firing again when we just settled it down through your routine. Take only a short moment to write a bit about your day, some of the things that are recycling through your mind or upsetting you, and a bit on how it made you feel. For some, this may literally just be in a bulleted list, no sentences at all. If the material is particularly triggering, writing a full sentence about it may even take you right back there - so an effective tool around that is to just give it a headline. What would a newspaper title the full story? You’ll know what it means without needing to write any more detail. For anything else, it's possible just listing what you did or what happened that day through timestamps is appealing to you, while others care less about the events of the day so much as the emotional experiences in it. There are so many different journaling techniques (we will likely even make another post about them at some point!) but there are many ways to do this, so personalize it. Some may work better for you than others. Don’t give up if it the first tries haven’t gone perfectly!
(As an aside, another common objection to journaling is being afraid that someone will read it. While we love the thought of you getting a journal that feels like a really personal, inviting place to hold all of your experiences for you — there is nothing wrong with or ‘lesser' in just writing via the Notes section of your phone. Then it is always on your person, you can lock entries so no one can find them, and you still help your mind displace some of its recursive thoughts by putting them somewhere outside of your pretty little head.)
Final thoughts on this! Ultimately, the purpose of journaling right before bed is to put away the day’s worries and stressors - but, some really like to use it as more than that. While we highly recommend following up your journaling with pleasant imagery and “good vibes” once you lay down, many incorporate that into their journaling. They use their 'good thoughts' as a bookend to their writing so it doesn’t feel as if all the “yuck” is just left open-ended on the page. If this appeals to you, you can do so in various ways:
Some choose to end by further describing a container they’d like to place these specific things in - such as a chest under the sea, flown away on a private airplane, a flood of emotions filling up an entire canyon that you can walk away from, images projected on to a movie screen that you can leave in the theater, a filing cabinet with an elaborate system of locks..so many possibilities. Those struggling with the emotional side of things may like to end their journaling with 5 to 10 statements that challenge any upsetting beliefs or distorted thoughts. Statements like, “I have worth.” “I am safe and can protect myself.” “Their beliefs about me do not MAKE me those things. I know who I am.” “I am not to blame; they made that decision when I wasn’t even there.” “My needs are important. I am not too much.”. Many like closing up with 3 positive things they like about themselves, several grounding statements, 5 wonderful things about the day, or a handful of things they are grateful for. There are many positive, uplifting, affirmative, or calming things you could use. Choose whatever feels right to you and what best meets your needs so that your mind is in a more peaceful and light place before you even close the book. Then, that satisfying close of the cover, locking up all the hard stuff, will feel that much more satisfying because you’re already in a much better place before you shut the book.
Journaling to Help with Nightmares
Journaling isn’t only a great tool to use before you go to sleep, it can also be incredibly useful after you’ve had a nightmare. Some nightmares are just too stubborn and intrusive that all the coping skills in the world before sleep can’t keep them from finding you. And, returning to sleep after one can be positively dreadful, if possible even at all. Keeping your journal nearby may be all that lends a hand when little else does.
Similarly to above, this can work as a kind of containment that your mind really needs after all that distressing content was pulled to the forefront of your mind. Though you may be exhausted, and your handwriting illegible, scribbling down a bit of your nightmare can help you ‘get it out’ so you’re less likely to just keep thinking about it as you try to fall back to sleep. It also allows your journal to “hold it” for you and keep it away from you and your sleep. You don’t have to write much detail or elaborate heavily, just hitting the key components that are most distressing to you is what matters most. Just list them, give them a headline, name a few feelings or objects or people, draw something if the words are too hard....anything to get the bulk of the nightmare out on paper and out of your poor head. For good measure, a lot of people like to fold that page of their journal over so they can’t even see it anymore. It gets extra-contained in that folded page. Then you can close the book up tight, set something heavy on top of it if you please, shut it tight in a drawer, and even move to the other side of the bed if you feel you need to. …nothing is too silly if it helps you feel it can no longer reach you. Now you're free to think about whatever pleasing scenery or place you wish to be instead, knowing it is tight and secure in its square on the page, and you’re in your safe place heading toward more pleasant sleep.
As a bonus, jotting these nightmares down can be incredibly useful to bring to therapy. If you have a particularly recurring dream, there are strong themes in your nightmares that may be trauma-related, or you’re having actual flashbacks in your nightmares, these notes can be extremely valuable when you’re in sessions. Having them written down the moment you woke from them, as authentically and raw as they get, can help you tackle things in much more nuanced way. This can get you through them more quickly and more accurately, which inevitably leads to better solutions for them all-around. Nothing could be more relieving than that.
Internal Parts (DID)
Not all survivors with Complex PTSD have internal parts, as this is more DID-specific, but that doesn’t mean some of these ideas won’t still be helpful for all to at least consider. There are many different aspects of the whole self that can struggle with sleep, aspects of yourself that you may be unaware of or had never considered before. For those who have DID, we know it can seem so simple or obvious that alters may be the reason your sleep is so disrupted. But it’s also completely understandable that you might be inclined to look just about everywhere else for what may be to blame before you ever think to look inside. "Did I have too much caffeine?" "Is this work project getting to be too much?" "Did I stay online too long?" "Maybe I shouldn’t eat that before bed anymore..?" When there are sooo many things that can keep a person from sleeping, it never hurts to be reminded to stop and consider…hm, maybe someone inside is keeping me up. While individual alters may be physically responsible for keeping you awake, for trauma survivors without DID, the younger aspects of yourself and traumatized parts of your mind may still need just as much attention and care. They could very much be the source of your restlessness, too.
For DID systems…. Parts inside might not be intentionally trying to keep your body awake, but that is actually also a possibility, too. Checking inside to see if someone is afraid to go to bed, has a belief that you need to be more productive or don’t deserve to sleep, or actively wants to punish you for something they feel you did wrong, are all things that could be going on beneath the surface. Looking to see if any of these types of feelings are what’s at play may lead you to some very surprising answers. Other possibilities may be much more innocent. Like parts making a bit of a ruckus inside, but not because they wanted to keep the body awake; it was just an accidental byproduct of their distress. Maybe a small kiddo part really wanted a you to sleep with their favorite stuffed animal or wear your fuzzy socks. Or they needed someone inside to come tuck them in or read them a story before they could rest, which left you wide awake up front. Other parts may be having an incredibly difficult with nightmares or triggers around bedtime that you weren’t even aware of - and their nervous energy or insomnia even on the inside may be keeping you up. Some insiders may just be ungrounded or unaware that it’s 2017, and extra grounding help before bed may be all they needed to quell their terror and lead them to sleep. Other struggles may be more challenging to overcome, though, like a part not liking that you have to share the bed with your partner if you have one. Issues like this may require a lot of talking and compromise before you can all get some shut-eye. A simple nighttime snack may have been the answer for someone one night, while making sure to double-check the locks on the doors may be a absolute non-negotiable every single night for someone else. There are countless things different parts could be having a hard time with - some that may relate to sleep and others that might not at all. But until their needs are heard and met, you will likely be left awake.
The good news is that there are often solutions to many of these issues. Some are quick fixes while others take a lot of work, time, therapy, and/or compromise. But there are usually answers somewhere, if given the proper time and attention. If you don’t yet have good internal communication, learning what the issue even is may be the harder part for you. But if you remain open to hearing from your mind, and let everyone know it's safe for them to express their needs or worries, you’ll likely hear (or at least pick up on) something you can work with. Perhaps making sure all parts have gone to independent safe places before bed is what you will need to do nightly. If they each have their own room, maybe child parts will need bedtime stories and snugs from maternal, comforting parts inside. And, sometimes things on the outside are your answer to making parts happy - like special PJs, blankets, a fan being turned on, a favorite movie, or even something more serious like not sleeping in just undies. The solutions may not always be comfortable to you, and this is where compromise and explaining your needs alongside theirs will be necessary. But it’s a start. And a start is often better than nothing if it’s been months since you’ve slept and you’ve tried EVERYTHING. If this is the first time you’ve gotten any insight to what’s keeping you up, it’s worth giving it your best effort.
It’s just too easy as we go about our lives to forget about parts inside or even those younger, traumatized parts of ourselves if we don’t have individual alters. Tending to their needs, fears and worries - or just taking extra time on self-care and grounding for all of you before bed - can do wonders for your mind. You’ve been through so very very much and your mind is going to wrestle with the idea of turning off for awhile, especially when it's the most vulnerable position you can be in all day. It’s only natural that you may need to take some extra time, thought and attention toward your health, safety and comfort. Yes, when you’re absolutely exhausted and just want to rest, this can feel like such a pain. But I can promise you that it’s well worth it if it actually results in good, restorative sleep in contrast to the restless, angst-ridden wrestling and warring you’re currently doing. Be kind to yourself, to your body, to young you and teenage you and adult you. You each have your unique challenges, but you are all one, and that whole person in this singular body needs and deserves a great night’s rest each day of the year. So, whenever you find yourself just having zero luck catching even a moment of decent sleep, or you're routinely waking up at the same time each night, we urge you to check inside. See what might be going on for the rest of you that you’re often less aware of during the day. Whether that is to each individual alter, or the traumatized and still-healing aspects of the singular you, give some thought to what you may need and ways you could tend to those worries or fears. The worst that happens if you try and it’s not where the problem was? Well, you just get a little extra self-care and comfort. Shucks! ;)
Oh, medication — it seems it’s either the most vital necessity or the greatest enemy to complex trauma survivors. And heck, both can even be true within the same person at different points in their life, orrr even at the same exact time! When it comes to sleep, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it — you absolutely must get it and you just cannot keep going if you aren’t getting a good amount. For many of you, this will require medication at some point in your life, and that is one-hundred percent okay. Whether the decision to try medication comes after you’ve tried everything else, or is something you jumped for at the first sign of trouble, there is never any shame in asking for, or needing, medication to help you sleep. We fully support and recommend its assistance to you under the direction of a mental health professional (most preferably one who is familiar with complex trauma, but we know those are hard to find. We’re working on that!). That said, we know just as well as many of you know, that sometimes medication can just stop working one day, never really did in the first place, gave you awful side effects, left you with terrible nightmares, or is something parts inside (or even you alone) have intense misgivings about and can’t reliably take each night. We want you to know that no matter where you fall on this spectrum of the medication journey, we empathize with you completely and are sorry that it has to be so difficult. Sleep is so important and absolutely vital; we ache for anyone who, even after all their best efforts on their own terms, can't even rely on medication to be a sustainable resource.
We don’t have any hard and fast answers or guidelines here, but we did want to mention its role in this battle against insomnia and nightmares. Because, while it may not be a long-term solution, and may include some unpleasant side effects, it may still be the most welcome rescue to your desperate need for sleep. Now, just going to your personal care physician and telling them you’re having an impossible time with sleep maaay lead to them prescribing some pretty heavy duty sleeping pills. But, we want you to know that not only are these NOT the only options out there, they aren’t always the best option for someone with your specific needs anyway. Talking with a psychiatrist tends to lead to a much more nuanced understanding of what about sleep is so difficult for you. And this can make all the difference in getting either a medication that just physically sedates you, one that takes down your excessive anxiety so you can fall asleep organically, or even antidepressants that can regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle so that you can turn down when you want and wake when you need.
Another lesser-known but available option is a group of medications that target nightmares more specifically. These are usually only prescribed by very knowledgable psychiatrists since they tend to affect blood pressure, and nightmares are not the medication’s primary focus. However, in recent years, they have found that certain medications (such as MiniPress/Prazosin and Catapres/Clonidine), which typically lower blood pressure, have been affective in treating PTSD nightmares. They do not always work and require very close monitoring of the person’s blood pressure since most who are taking it for PTSD reasons do not need their BP lowered. ...but that will still happen anyway. However, it’s always helpful to know that some of these options exist out there and could potentially be viable for you. You will need to talk thoroughly with your physicians to find what is right and safe for you, but just knowing there are various possibilities out there may lead you to the help you deserve. “Sleeping pills” or the hardcore medications you’ve heard tons of awful things about are not your only option. In fact, they’re pretty rarely used for trauma patients (with exceptions of course). Whether it’s through benzodiazepines, antidepressants, other psychiatric drugs with sedating side effects, blood pressure medications, or any other class of meds — there are so many ways to tailor your sleep regimen to your specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sleep, and that even includes within the same person. What you needed, or did terribly with, as a teen may be the most unhelpful or perfect solution to you now.
Of course, we know there will still be a subsection of you who have tried literally every concoction under the sun and there’s just no way to get relief through medicine. We extend our sincerest sympathies and encourage you to look deep for internal reasons that insist you fight and override every combination of medicines thrown at you. The mind is an incredibly powerful force and if it doesn’t want to sleep, it can beat even the most powerful of substances. This could very much be the case for you, and really taking the time to explore why sleep is so forbidden, frightening, or “bad” could eventually unlock the mystery that’s been - quite literally - keeping you up at night. And, if that doesn’t seem to be a fruitful exploration and you’re still desperate for some Zzz’s, it's never a bad idea to at least consider retrying medications you’ve tried once before. The body, its chemistry, and your personal needs can change dramatically over time. What you need now may be completely different than what you’ve been trying at this stage or in the past. We know just how frustrating this can be and completely understand why you may've thrown your hands in the air already not wanting to try anymore. But you deserve sleep. You NEED sleep. We want to see your body and mind get that wonderfully restorative break.
If you needed a nudge or for someone to tell you that it’s okay to try medication again - or for the first time - this is it. We’re telling you it’s okay. It doesn’t have to be forever, you don’t have to rely on them, and you can stop at any time. But you deserve a chance at peace, comfort and rest.
We truly hope that this has helped some of you in your fight against nightmares or insomnia. If nothing else, we hope that it’s helped you think about this battle you face every night in a different way, and perhaps it will lead to some looooong, peaceful nights. Please don’t forget to share your experiences or own personal tips an tricks with us and others below. We have far too many possibilities to include them all here, so we know that you guys have even more! And, nothing could be more helpful than a collection of survivors’ stories on how they beat what kept them up for so long and finally got some solid sleep!
If you would like to catch other informative or educational posts of ours, give these a try:
• Grounding 101: Featuring 101 Grounding Techniques
• Regarding the Film 'Split': Our Support for Survivors and Public Statement on the Film
• Surviving the Holidays with C-PTSD or Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays
Bringing you a post here today from instagram because it's important.
Far, far too often, when trauma survivors try to tell someone what happened to them, what they hear in response can range from: being flat out denied, their story manipulated or twisted around to a completely different version of events; having their integrity questioned, their feelings invalidated; being victim-blamed, shamed, badgered for more details, one-upped by someone else's trauma, unacknowledged entirely -- a laundry list of awful, painful responses. If the survivor tried to tell someone when they were a child, while it was still happening, any of these responses can shut them down for the rest of their lives. ..even rewrite how they ever view their trauma and pain. This is true at any stage of life, really. Despite this, too often these are the awful things survivors hear after baring their most vulnerable self to someone.
But writing.. Writing gives you an outlet to state your truth. To be clear about what YOU KNOW happened. To define your reality, no one else's. To speak strongly about what you know is real, and serious, and important, and valid, and worthy of someone's attention and compassion. You can own your feelings and validate them to yourself as well as the hurt pieces of your heart and mind. You also have the freedom to be angry and bitter and jealous. In writing, it's SAFE to be honest about the unfairness you feel. To admit you feel robbed. To speak against those who betrayed, ignored, or invalidated you. You KNOW what is true. And when you can be fervent in that, you can start to build yourself up to know your story is important. Your pain is important. Your growth and healing are important.
Most of all? Getting a chance to be clear about what took place, without anyone else questioning, manipulating or blaming you - you get a chance at objectivity. To see this was in no way EVER your fault. You were a child, they were the adult. Even if a child ASKS to be hurt, it is ALWAYS the adult's responsibility to say no. You are, and you were, innocent. Period.
We are with you.