The Link Between PTSD and Insomnia

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; A disorder that can occur to anyone after being part of, or witnessing, dangerous, life threatening or traumatic events.

PTSD can hit anyone at any time. It is particularly prevalent in the military. In fact, one study found that individuals who slept six or fewer hours a night prior to being deployed on a military mission were more likely to develop PTSD afterwards.

Typical symptoms of PTSD including feelings of fear, estrangement, detachment, and insomnia.

Upwards of 70 percent of individuals who have PTSD suffer from insomnia or another sleep issue. This is thought to occur because the brain remains in a state of hyper-arousal or hyper-vigilance. This causes you to still feel frightened or threatened even if the danger has passed.

For instance, if you fear being attacked, shot at, or assaulted, you may hear every creak the house makes, as well as only doze or sleep lightly. Your mind is always on alert.

If you have PTSD and cannot sleep, you aren't dealing with typical insomnia. Often, you're not sleeping because you are afraid to sleep.

This means bad sleeping habits and patterns are formed and even embraced. The truth is, in cases of PTSD it's typical to prefer going without sleep. You may be more comfortable just dozing and living with insomnia and all of its issues rather than living in fear of what could happen if you did fall asleep.

Why is this?

Oftentimes when sleep does come to someone who is dealing with PTSD, the sleep is very eventful. Flashbacks and nightmares often occur. This can lead to actions or movements that are violent or injury-provoking. Sufferers may even walk or talk in their sleep.

While studies continue on PTSD and insomnia, there are effective treatments for it. These include medications as well as therapy. Other issues should also be addressed during treatment, such as depression, if alcohol or substance abuse is being used as a coping mechanism, as well as physical conditions.

The prognosis of someone who has PTSD and insomnia is dependent upon the length of time and the severity of the disorder. Early treatment is recommended.

Insomnia is both a risk factor and a symptom of PTSD. In addition, insomnia worsens the symptoms of PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety. If you or someone you love is dealing with insomnia be sure to seek help sooner rather than later.


Maher, M.J. "Sleep Disturbances in Patients with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Epidemiology, Impact and Approaches to Management." National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2006. Accessed September 21, 2015.

Milliken, C.S. et. al. "Longitudinal Assessment of Mental Health Problems among Active and Reserve Component Soldiers Returning from the Iraq War." National Center for Biotechnology Information. November 14, 2007. Accessed September 21, 2015.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.