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Complex PTSD and Sleep

Jun 30, 2023

If you’ve experienced prolonged trauma, your past traumatic experiences might be disrupting your sleep. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can affect sleep patterns and overall sleep quality due to the impact of trauma on the nervous system and on your mental well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explain how C-PTSD routinely interferes with sleep and introduce where to get help in improving the quality of your nightly rest.

Complex PTSD and Sleep

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can affect sleep patterns and quality by creating regular sleep disturbances. These disturbances may appear as insomnia, nightmares, hypervigilance, flashbacks, restless sleep, frequent awakenings, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness. Sleep problems in people with C-PTSD must be addressed since they can increase other symptoms and influence overall well-being. Headwaters provides trauma-informed care to give insight and support in managing sleep difficulties and can personalize substance use treatment when alcohol and drugs have been part of your choices in coping with a severe lack of restful sleep.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-270-1753.

What Is C-PTSD?

C-PTSD is typically the outcome of recurrent exposure to traumatic situations, especially in interpersonal interactions, such as chronic childhood abuse, spousal violence, or extended incarceration. All PTSD criteria are present in the C-PTSD diagnosis criteria, as well as the following additional symptoms:

  • Emotional dysregulation that’s characterized by difficulty managing or regulating emotions, strong and volatile emotions, emotional outbursts, and a sense of emotional numbness or emptiness
  • Disturbances in self-identity as a result of a distorted self-image, feelings of shame or guilt, a continuous sense of worthlessness, and difficulty creating a coherent sense of self
  • Relationship problems ranging from difficulties in forming and sustaining healthy relationships, including concerns with trust, intimacy, and trouble establishing and maintaining boundaries
  • Experiencing meaninglessness, existential issues, and a sense of pessimism

How Does C-PTSD Affect Sleep?

The combination of Complex PTSD and sleep issues are not uncommon. Sleep patterns and general sleep quality might be affected by Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Sleep difficulties are common among C-PTSD clients due to stress’s influence on the neurological system and mental health. Here are some of the ways C-PTSD might interfere with your ability to rest.

Daytime Sleepiness

Chronic tiredness and excessive daytime drowsiness can result from sleep difficulties linked with C-PTSD. Individuals who do not get enough restorative sleep may feel weary, drained, and exhausted during the day, affecting their overall functionality and quality of life.


Flashbacks are strong, intrusive flashbacks of terrible experiences that can happen while you’re awake. They can, however, disrupt sleep by emerging as vivid and painful pictures or feelings during sleep, resulting in unexpected awakenings or sleep disruptions.


Hypervigilance is a condition of continual attention and monitoring for prospective dangers. It can make it difficult for people suffering from C-PTSD to relax and feel comfortable enough to sleep. Sleep problems and fragmented sleep patterns might be exacerbated by the worry of being vulnerable while sleeping.


Insomnia is defined as difficulty getting asleep, remaining asleep, or having a non-restorative sleep. Many people with C-PTSD have insomnia due to hyperarousal, heightened anxiety, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or dread of falling asleep due to traumatic experiences.


Nightmares are intense, disturbing nightmares in which horrific events are re-enacted. People suffering from C-PTSD may have recurring dreams about their traumatic events, which can interfere with sleep and induce panic, anxiety, or night sweats.

Restless Sleep and Frequent Awakenings

People suffering from C-PTSD may have restless sleep characterized by tossing and turning and frequent awakenings throughout the night. These interruptions can be caused by increased fear or panic, nightmares, or anxiety-related sleep disturbances.

How Does C-PTSD Get Treated?

Now that you know more about Complex PTSD and sleep issues, let’s discuss treatment options. Treating Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) typically involves a comprehensive and multidimensional approach. Common treatment approaches for C-PTSD include Trauma-Focused Psychotherapy, self-care and holistic approaches, and medication when necessary. C-PTSD is typically treated with trauma-focused therapy as a primary element. Several evidence-based treatments, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), have been demonstrated to be successful in helping clients recognize and improve harmful thinking patterns and behaviors connected to trauma.

Cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and skills training may be used to alleviate symptoms, reduce distress, and foster healthy coping methods. Another specialized therapy is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which focuses on reprocessing traumatic memories using bilateral stimulation methods. This method seeks to lessen the emotional suffering associated with traumatic situations while also encouraging adaptive resolution. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) also combines aspects of CBT with mindfulness approaches to treat emotional dysregulation, self-destructive behaviors, and frequent interpersonal issues in C-PTSD.

Self-care practices and holistic approaches can play a significant role in managing C-PTSD symptoms and promoting overall healing. These may include mindfulness techniques and meditation to help you develop present-moment awareness, reduce stress, and enhance emotional regulation, and physical exercise, such as aerobic activities or yoga, to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve overall well-being.

Developing and sustaining helpful connections with trustworthy people, such as friends, family, or support groups, can be a significant source of understanding, validation, and emotional support. Individuals may also nourish themselves, manage stress, and foster a sense of safety and well-being by engaging in self-compassion, self-care, and self-soothing activities.

Medication may be administered in certain circumstances to treat symptoms related to C-PTSD, such as depression, anxiety, or sleep difficulties. Antidepressant drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other mood stabilizers, can help relieve symptoms and improve general well-being.

How Do I Find Help for C-PTSD and Sleep Issues?

If you or someone you know suffers from C-PTSD, it is critical that they get therapy from a trauma-focused mental health specialist to learn how to respond to the symptoms of trauma and sleep deprivation in healthy ways. Executives who are struggling with drug misuse as a result of unmet mental health requirements can find private, discreet treatment choices at Headwaters. When treating individuals with both C-PTSD and substance use disorders, a holistic and integrated therapeutic approach is usually necessary.

Headwaters is a well-known care provider offering a range of addiction treatment programs for executives and their families targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-270-1753.

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