What-to-do-when-you-can’t-Sleep Strategies for PTSD

Hi again!

So – the last post was about sleep strategies… And since I acknowledged that none of those strategies were quick fixes, I figured it would make sense to follow up with strategies about what on Earth to do with yourself when you can’t sleep. Because, even if you do everything I just suggested in the last post, chances are some of the time you’ll still be up, unable to sleep.

Or, chances are that you’ll get to sleep and then be woken up with nightmares. If that’s the case, check out this post.

If you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep – don’t just keep lying there tossing and turning. Get up. Go to a different room.

Turn on only soft, dim lights. Try NOT to turn on the TV, the computer, or your phone; your brain interprets the type of light emitted by those devices as daylight, so looking at them will only get you more alert and wired, and will make it harder to get back to sleep.

Instead, do things that feel either relaxing and/or a little boring to you – some examples might include playing soft music; flipping through a magazine; folding laundry; working on a jigsaw puzzle.

Do this until you feel sleepy (until you’re yawning and feeling like you could fall asleep). Then go back to bed.

There’s a reason behind this approach:

If you can’t sleep and you don’t get up, you end up spending night after night tossing and turning in bed. After a while, you don’t think of bed as “a relaxing place to go to get some rest”; instead, you think of bed as “that awful place where you toss and turn all night long every night”. If you’ve been doing that for a while, you’ll tense up a bit as soon as you think of bed. You might find it easier to fall asleep on the couch or in a big armchair – anywhere but bed.

So, getting up when you can’t sleep basically re-teaches your brain that bed is a comfortable place where you can sleep, and not an awful place where you toss and turn for hours on end.

And doing relaxing, boring, quiet stuff gives you another chance to lull yourself to sleep. Even if you don’t get back to sleep that night, doing quiet, relaxing stuff during the night helps to re-teach your brain that night-time is for sleeping, or at least for resting.

Again – no quick fixes here, folks. But this is important stuff to know, and if you try it, it might make a bit of a difference.

Good night, and I hope you’re able to get some rest.


I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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3 thoughts on “What-to-do-when-you-can’t-Sleep Strategies for PTSD

  1. Some of the advice I get here works, Some I remember from chatting with a previous Psychologist who was amazing x 10! but I have not yet found how to stop the flashes during the day or the nightmares that torture me with zero notice. Last night was really bad, I scared the whole house with my screams & to be honest It brings me to such a low point that I have a hard time justifying the continued torture. With all the different sessions I have had & time sense the event, You would think things would have calmed down by now but for me they don’t. Today I was working in my shop & suddenly I could smell smoke canisters.
    I can’t sleep tonite which means I will be sleeping lil cat naps through the day tomorrow. I hate this!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Hey Wayne.

      I’m so sorry to hear you’re having such a tough time.

      PTSD can be pretty unpredictable – you can be doing well for a long time, and then get triggered seemingly out of nowhere. It sucks, it’s annoying, and it can really wear on you.

      It’s important to tease apart feeling ticked off at the PTSD (which is entirely understandable) from blaming yourself. Sometimes, that can be a very fine line – it’s easy to drift into thinking, “with all the different treatment I have had and the amount of time that has passed since the event, what’s wrong with me that I can’t get past this? “, and that’s unfair, and that’s depression talking.

      It can be really hard to accept that you may have some symptoms for the rest of your life; it’s not your fault, it’s not because you didn’t try hard enough in treatment, that’s just the reality of PTSD for some folks.

      Another way of looking at it is, this fight ain’t over until you say it is – if you have a symptom today and you hate it, find a therapist whom you’d like to have as a partner in this fight, and see if you can find stuff you haven’t tried before, stuff that you can do to try and cut down on that symptom. Don’t be down on yourself that you “should be better by now” – if it were quick and easy to get better, you’d have been there ten times by now. You’re not there yet because getting there is harder than you estimated, not because you failed.

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