The Sleep Game and #PTSD

Oh sleep, how I miss you.

I’m not talking about a medicine induced coma (I can eat Ambien like tic tac). Or exhaustion from being awake for three days (it’s amazing how many TV series you can get through on Netflix). Or won’t get out of bed from depression sleep (see the Anniversary post).

I mean normal, wholesome, lazy Sunday afternoon sleep.

All sleep is not created equal. Getting to normal sleep was the first thing I tackled managing and is a constant battle. My mind and body need it. Given the complexity of PTSD and the issues deeply tied to anxiety and safety, weaving through the dozens of variables that contribute to a good nights sleep can be tricky.

Homecoming Problems: Sleep was just the beginning

I was pretty much terrified to close my eyes when I got home from my second tour. Either I was worried about someone coming into my house, or the nightmares took me right back to a firefight. (Cue story about attacking my wife in my sleep…) What I quickly discovered was that I needed the meds, and because of the meds I needed a routine.

Sleep Journal

I put myself on as strict a routine as I could but, finding the data points was tricky. If you don’t keep a log, I would highly recommend it. I kept med dosages, time to bed, time up, and a few notes and lined up anniversaries and non-Army stressors. The better I kept the journal, the more trends I could find. (we are not talking statistical significance here, it just felt like I was identifying trends)

Probably the biggest significant data point I recognized from the early days was the impact alcohol had on me and my routine. In the beginning I was on trazodone, citalopram, quetiepam and prazosin. Everyday. I hate medicine. My temptation to suck things up gave me serious misgivings about all meds. When avoiding meds was not an option, my soul mission in life was to get the sleep under control so I could get under way with real work. I was also desperate to get away from all the drugs filling up my medicine cabinet and more importantly, my veins.

The labels on those bottles did not lie. Even with small bits of alcohol, I was completely out of whack with my sleep patterns. It was a heavy sleep and a long fog after I woke up. As a result, joblessness or working from home was my only option early on.

One day, I just made up my mind and stopped drinking entirely, and besides saving me a few bucks, I have never looked back (ok, maybe I look back occasionally, and I may have slammed a shot and a beer when they killed OBL… it tastes so good when it touches your lips)

Still, getting sleep to be manageable is in my opinion the best first step on the PTSD treatment road. Sleep makes me happy. Sleep helps me think rationally. Too much sleep and being unproductive gets me down. Finding that balance of sleep and medication helps.

Alternatives to Medicine

I am at a stage now where I need less medicine. Using the lessons from therapy as well as some visualization techniques, I rely on a relaxation exercise to help me when meds are to too much and I am too wound up to get to sleep quickly.

I am including a link to the Army Center for Enhanced Performance site. They have tools there for a variety of stuff, but I will point you to the relaxation MP3. Everyone has an MP3 player now right? Good. Go download it and give it a try. ACEP Resources

In summary: sleep is the gateway to getting to the real work. Understand the labels and the restrictions sleep meds put on you. Be disciplined in your approach to sleep. Try relaxtion techniques to assist with getting to sleep. I hope it helps you.

3 thoughts on “The Sleep Game and #PTSD

  1. Tom M.

    Thanks man, will give the MP3s a shot. I am starting over in a new city, divorcing, new job, and figuring things out. I have learned to accept PTSD at face value and sleep comes in fits and starts. Ambien helps a great deal, but sometimes i can’t help but pouring booze on it. I did the VA sessions and the help I got varied widely. I’ll let you know what the MP3s accomplish. In the meantime, hope all is well. Looking forward to seeing you and the wife come reunion time in the fall.

  2. ptsdsurvivordaily


    My line is always open. I had to learn about most of this shit the hard way. My last shrink reminded me of an oompa loompa with a crappy psych degree, so I can sympathize with the mixed results. I hope the MP3 works and I look forward to hearing back.

    Take care.


    (Quick note about the MP3, it is primarily for relaxation, not sleep. I use it for a lot of stuff, not just trying to get to sleep.)

  3. Leigh

    I came across your blog today and have read the entire site. You have a tremendous talent for the written word and a captivating, thoughtful style of story-telling. I apologize if this is not the correct format to contact you, but I couldn’t find an email address on the site, and I have a pressing question about supporting someone who suffers from combat PTSD.

    I’m currently in a long-distance something-or-other with a wonderful man who is an Iraq veteran and currently works for the DoD in Afghanistan. In between those grueling jobs, he had a breakdown, checked himself into the “psych ward” (as he calls it) at the VA and underwent treatment for PTSD. He also struggles with sleep and constant nightmares. He’s not on any meds, and he says that he is confident he will have these nightmares for the rest of his life. He has also told me that he has come to terms with the fact that he will never be happy.

    I do not know what to say to him. I don’t want to be some naive Pollyanna and tell him, “Of course you will!” What do I know about the kind of hell he’s been through? I feel, though, that he has given up on these things prematurely, and I wish I knew what to say or do to encourage him to continue seeking peace, or even to just support him in his turmoil. We exchange stories about our day: I tell him about my crazy boss, and he says, “Damn, honey, that sucks”; he tells me about getting hit with IDF, and I say… “Damn, honey, that sucks.” Because I have no idea how else to express what I feel when I think about what his life is like, and how it has been irrevocably changed because of his service. Is there even anything that I can say? What should I do?

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