Sleep And DID: Could Better Sleep Be As Important As Therapy?


Matthew Walker PhD doesn’t treat adults with DID.  But perhaps he should.  


He is a sleep researcher, possibly one of the best in the world, and one with an amazing book that makes it clear that your physical AND mental health, and your sleep quality, are inseparable.  

If you are a science geek like me, you will love the hundreds of research studies he references in his bestselling book, Why We Sleep.  If you are not, you will still be grateful for the list of sleep aides and actionable ideas in his book, and his appreciation for the ways in which worrying about your sleep quality tanks efforts to get better sleep.  He doesn’t live in an ivory tower.  He is a pragmatist.  Dr. Walker understands we all live in the real world, and that there are many things contributing to our choices at any one time.  He wants us to make the healthiest choices we can make without becoming obsessed or discouraged.


The best news?  He has stated that increasing the amount of your high-quality sleep, particularly your late-am REM sleep, by only 15 minutes per day, every day, can be transformative for improving physical health.  Your REM sleep is your brain’s  mental health first aid kit.  It turns out that small wins in life can be big wins.  Since the impressive power of small wins is one of the principles of my book Staying In the Room:  Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID, I am now a permanent fangirl of Dr. Walker’s!


He has stated in an interview that he is unaware of any mental health diagnosis that is not associated with alterations in sleep.  The list of possible issues in DID that interfere with sleep is long.  I didn’t create a list; there is already a fairly comprehensive list in the book Coping With Trauma-Related Dissociation from Boon, Steele and Van Der Hart. They listed 21 common different sleep issues for people with dissociative disorders.


They range from waking too frequently to narcolepsy.  Without question, getting a good night’s sleep when you have DID is very difficult for far too many adults.




Most of the suggested strategies in “Coping With Trauma-Related Dissociation” focus on what doctors call “sleep hygiene”, as well as working with your system to cooperatively plan for sleep, and dealing with the aftermath of nightmares.  Read Three Common Sleep Issues for Trauma Survivors for more information on some of the most troubling sleep symptoms, and why they shouldn’t scare you as much as they do.

  But there are some things I would add to their chapter.  I will probably have to add them to the next edition of my own book.  I am a certified trainer in newborn sleep/calming, and I have been a clinical OTR for a really long time.  I am in the process of being certified as a sleep coach through UC Berkeley.  Here is what I have learned about what helps people of all ages sleep better so far:


  • Screen use before bed/when awakening at night might be Dr. Walker’s most intense warning siren.  The effects of the light emitted from a screen has a direct negative impact on the brain’s ability to trigger sleep.  Even your phone’s light has consequences.  Looking at the time on a clock or phone needs to be more strongly discouraged.  The effect of checking the time on anxiety is simply too powerful not to emphasize it more clearly.  Turn the phone screen down to the table, and use lighting that eliminates blue light well before you go to sleep.
  • Nightlights left on all night long are going to harm the brain’s ability to remain asleep, but they can be set to be motion-activated if you need to see better to get to the bathroom without tripping.  A nightlight that emits a warm glow will not have the same altering effect of a bright LED.  
  • White noise is not all the same.  Crashing waves or rain showers sound trendy, but the sudden alterations in volume and frequency can be triggering for people whose brains are sensitive to threat.  High-frequency white noise is altering.  Choosing a sound that mimics the sound of a steady bathroom shower is a better choice.  With high levels of anxiety, beginning with a lower-frequency sound and dialing down into the bathroom shower level can “train” the brain to calm.  Who has such an app? Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block white noise app.  I use it when I train parents of newborns.  Turns out they need some help to sleep too!
  • IMPO, the authors of “Coping” don’t place enough emphasis or detail on the need to orient to the present time right before bed.  Sure, they suggest checking locks on doors and windows if you or parts are concerned about safety, and allowing parts to have stuffed animals if desired, but they don’t address the way adults with DID so often live in “trauma time”.  This means that some aspects of the system do not realize that they are adults living away from abusers, and even that abusers may be too old to harm them, or even dead.  During sleep, parts that live in trauma time can be certain that it is 1999, 1983, even 1963!  They need more reinforcement to orient to the present, and closer to bedtime.
  • Of course, I wish they had made mention of sensory processing strategies that produce a calm state, like the ones I included in my book.  Because many trauma survivors have medical issues that make using weighted blankets or compression garments riskier when asleep, I am partial to the use of Binaural Beat Technology (BBT) prior to sleep for those individuals.  Be aware that Alpha brainwaves are the ones that allow you to quickly fall into a sleep state, and some adults with DID and OSDD become more anxious when in Theta or Delta states.  Underestimating the amount of tension that people with dissociative disorders live with every day was proven by Bethany Brand’s TOP DD study.  We need to clarify what that means for advice on daily living strategies.

Want more information about how to improve your day-to-day health when you have DID?

My book is for you!



Chapter 9 is all about taking better care of yourself at home.  Chapter 3 covers sensory processing treatment strategies that are also stabilization strategies.

Improving your health with preventive care, and being able to manage mild injury and illness at home, means that you have less need of urgent care and hospital ERs!  Being healthier will always give you more bandwidth to allow you to heal from trauma.

My book is available as a paperback and a digital download from (where else?) Amazon  .

Published by Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist and a licensed massage therapist, in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment, with a focus on sensory processing issues and treating the consequences of complex trauma. I am the author of four books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone". Over the years I have lectured about trauma treatment and pediatric development.

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