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Sleep and PTSD

Sleep problems are intimately connected to PTSD, with insomnia and nightmares being common symptoms experienced by individuals with the disorder. Sleep is essential for our physical, emotional, and cognitive health. We all know how important sleep is. Without it, we feel slow, sluggish, and unproductive. On the contrary, a restful night of sleep leaves us feeling refreshed and energised.

Research indicates that sleep problems may precede the development of PTSD or arise as a consequence of the disorder itself [1]. Among those who experience a traumatic event, individuals with significant sleep problems are more likely to develop PTSD in the future. Sleep disturbances in PTSD interfere with the brain’s ability to process memories and emotions, thereby impeding the recovery process after a traumatic event. Recognising the significance of sleep in PTSD recovery, it is crucial to implement strategies that promote better sleep hygiene and address sleep-related difficulties.

Occupational Therapy (OT) plays a valuable role in addressing sleep problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by employing various interventions and strategies to improve sleep quality and overall well-being. Here is a brief explanation of the role of Occupational Therapy in addressing sleep and PTSD:

  1. Sleep Management Interventions: Occupational therapists utilize evidence-based interventions to address sleep problems in individuals with PTSD. These interventions include:
    • a. Assistive Devices/Equipment: Occupational therapists may recommend and educate individuals on the use of assistive devices or equipment that promote better sleep hygiene, such as ergonomic pillows, mattress modifications, or white noise machines [1].
    • b. Activities: Engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities tailored to an individual’s interests and abilities can promote relaxation and prepare the body for sleep. Occupational therapists help individuals incorporate calming activities into their daily routines before bedtime [1].
    • c. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): Occupational therapists trained in CBT-I techniques can assist individuals in identifying and modifying unhelpful sleep-related thoughts and behaviours. CBT-I aims to improve sleep quality by addressing underlying psychological factors contributing to insomnia [1].
    • d. Lifestyle Intervention: Occupational therapists work with individuals to identify lifestyle factors that may impact sleep, such as exercise routines, nutrition, and stress management. They provide guidance on adopting healthier habits and establishing a sleep-friendly environment [1].

Coming later in 2023, Lifeworks will be running a group program for people with chronic health conditions who are experiencing sleep difficulties. More information and details will be provided in the coming months.

Here are some resources and links for both clinicians and people with sleep difficulties.
• The Sleep Health Foundation has a number of informative fact sheets with links to additional resources and is an excellent starting point:

For clinicians:
• Listen to the Australian podcast Sleep Talk Episode 52.

The research for evidence-based practice:
• Bidirectional associations between daily PTSD symptoms and sleep disturbances: A systematic review (2022).


• When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep by Antonio Zadra, Robert Stickgold

If you would like to make a referral, please contact our friendly admin team on (08) 7082 0622 or at [email protected] between 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Please visit our website to learn more about what we offer at Lifeworks OT and to make a referral.

Zeta Orrman is an Occupational Therapist at Lifeworks OT. With a keen interest in mental health, chronic pain, and the role of sleep in overall wellbeing, Zeta combines her professional knowledge and personal passion to help individuals navigate their daily occupations and lead meaningful lives. When she's not working, Zeta can be found surfing, travelling, flying aeroplanes, or volunteering at the Perth Astronomical Observatory.

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