How Does Trauma Affect Sleep?

The dictionary describes trauma as a “deeply distressing or disturbing experience, or a physical injury.” An example of a deeply distressing experience would be a car accident from which you shouldn’t have walked away. A physical injury would be anything from a broken arm or leg to a concussion. The overwhelming nature of such an ordeal prevents the brain from processing it so that the effects are minimal.

The brain is an intricate, multi-faceted organ with more connections than roadways crisscrossing the U. S. Trauma not only affects the senses – hearing, smell, touch, and sight – but it affects the emotions, thoughts, and speech. All these are controlled with different parts of the brain, although an ordeal affects them all.

Slumber is essential to the body’s health and well-being. Signals bounce from the immune system, the heart, lungs, muscles, and other parts of the body to the brain. The brain then processes the signals, preparing the body for the next day’s work. The brain cleanses itself of today’s thoughts, worries, and pictures in order to have a clean slate for the next day’s thoughts.

The stress of a shock or an ordeal impacts slumber in various ways. Those who have sustained such a shock will unconsciously guard against the effects of the shock. This manifests in an acute awareness that keeps the sufferer from reposing well or at all.


A shock or ordeal is often re-lived in frightening clarity through nightmares. The mind will even recognize the first signs of the coming nightmare and wake up the body. This prevents deep, restful slumber. When it happens frequently enough, the body suffers all the symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Sleep Apnea

Psychology Today reports a study in Chest, a medical journal, regarding the effects of a shock or ordeal on slumber. Patients diagnosed with shock or ordeal were also diagnosed with apnea, sometimes obstructive apnea. However, these patients resisted use of the C-PAP machine. The conclusion of the study was that those suffering from a shock or ordeal had trouble with treatment as well as suffering the shock or ordeal.

Alcohol And Drugs

Many shock or ordeal sufferers use alcohol or drugs in order to sink into deep slumber. The trouble with this is that the brain and body become sluggish, which is not conducive to restful slumber. The sluggishness continues into the next day, causing a never-ending cycle in a tired, deprived mind and body.

Lack Of Awareness

For many people, night and darkness are times of uncertainty. Crimes sometimes are committed after dark and some natural disasters sometimes happen after dark. That’s enough to make anyone uneasy, but to the shock or ordeal sufferer, it’s panic-worthy.

When the body is in deep repose, there is no awareness, no control over any circumstances. The shock or ordeal sufferer sees this as an open invitation to hurt them again. This feeling makes slumber hard to come by and harder still to maintain.


Flashbacks, especially when the shock or ordeal was very violent, will keep sufferers from reposing. In the REM stage of slumber, flashbacks tend to happen the most. The slumberer wakes and is unable doze again. The body suffers for this lack of repose the next day, which makes it even more difficult to catch 40 winks.

What we have here is a vicious circle. The shock or ordeal victim suffers from lack of restful slumber, while the aspects of the shock or ordeal keeps the body tense and unable to doze. Thus, the ordeal causes the aspects of poor slumber, and poor slumber makes the effects of the ordeal worse.

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