Do you remember the last time you slept through the night? What about the last time you woke up feeling truly rested? Is it every day? Most days? Once a week? How many hours of sleep do you average a night?
When you have been through traumatic experiences, it can really mess with your sleep habits. My earliest trauma memories begin around age 2 or 3 – my dad beating the shit out of my mom. Not just once; he hurt my mommy over and over again. When I was around the age of 5, the sexual abuse started. My parents weren’t together anymore at that point. However, the domestic violence continued between my dad and his girlfriend.
Nightmares are the norm for me. I can remember being 3 or 4 and having horrible dreams. My mom always brushed them off; she would tell me that I was making it all up in my mind and I needed to go back to bed. Sometime between kindergarten and second grade, I actually started trying to fall asleep under my bed because that is where I felt the safest.
When I was a little older, the nightmares became more like reliving my traumatic experiences. Eventually, by middle school, I would lay in bed for hours and hours trying to fall asleep. I was sleeping so little at night, that it became a real struggle to stay awake in school.
Until getting through some of my trauma work, I had a fear of sleeping; because when I go to sleep, I can’t control what goes on in my head.
I have had nightmares about trying to kill myself, about my mom getting beaten to death, about trying to save the little girl that he hurts and not being able to. I have had dreams that the traumatic experiences are happening again. I have even had dreams about parts of my trauma that my mind had blocked out for years.
My husband has to wake me up every once in a while. He says I whimper in my sleep like a puppy. Even as he was driving us home from Chicago a couple weeks ago, I was sleeping in the passenger seat and he had to wake me up – he said I was kicking and thrashing in my sleep.
Nightmares are probably the biggest challenge of living with PTSD. You have very little control of your mind when you are sleeping. Last night, I had a nightmare that correlated with my sexual abuse trauma and I woke up feeling dysregulated. It’s always really difficult to go back to sleep after that. All day today, I’ve been thinking more about my trauma experiences than I typically do, and I know it’s a result of the dream.
So what can you do about it?
Well some things that help me at night or in the middle of the night include:
- Diffusing essential oils (DoTERRA Console is my absolute favorite, followed by Serenity; however, I also have a “Good Night” oil that I bought off Amazon for like $8 that I love)
- Yoga Nidra (Click here for more info)
- Guided meditations (the iSleep Easy App is my favorite)
In the morning, when I’ve woken up from a rough night’s sleep or nightmares, things that help me are:
- Writing about the dreams so that I can get them out
- Yoga!!! Something like restorative child’s pose to kind of close off my mind and prevent the thoughts from leaking into the rest of my day
- Essential oils (see the last list)
- Showing myself compassion (for me this usually looks like Starbucks or taking time for myself to do something that I want to do)
- Reminding myself that I am not little anymore and today I am safe
I don’t know if any of you have other suggestions on coping with trauma-related nightmares, but I would LOVE to hear them!