Could Getting Better Sleep Decrease Your Response to Trauma Triggers?

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Well, we really don’t know for sure.

What we do know is that sleep deprivation is, to put it technically, really bad for your brain.

Bad in so many ways.  It negatively affects so many other organ systems as well.  But we do know that affects the brain in ways that make it easier to go into a dissociative state, a depressive state, and an anxious state.  And stay there.  

Sleep deprivation makes anyone less capable of logical thought, of paying attention to the important things around them, and making solid decisions.  So it is logical, but not formally scientifically proven, that sleep deprivation could make being triggered easier, more frequent, and more severe.  Why?  We do know with research studies that short sleep (sleeping too little) as well as long sleep (particularly spending a lot of time in bed, not sleeping and sleeping) decreases the brain’s ability to access the prefrontal cortex.  

For those of you who are not science geeks like me, that part plays a big role in using all of the strategies to handle triggers and dissociation that your therapist is trying to teach you.  You need it in order to assess where you are at and remember to use those techniques.  Heck, if your prefrontal cortex isn’t activated, you won’t even remember that you know any ways to calm down!  Janina Fisher speaks a lot about using your prefrontal cortex to manage DID.  Does she give you ideas about how to get more sleep so you have an active cortex?  

Nope.

None of that is good news for people with DID or OSDD, or dissociative PTSD.  

Not any of it.

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People with DID are so vulnerable to sleep problems.  Anything from mild issues to diagnosable sleep disorders Sleep And DID: Could Better Sleep Be As Important As Therapy? .  This isn’t news to anyone working in trauma treatment.

What kind of interventions could help adults with DID get better sleep?  

CBT-i, or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, has some promise.  This type of CBT teaches a ton of simple strategies that have been clinically proven to make a difference.  UC Berkeley’s Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic is the home of CBT-i.  

They know a lot about how poor sleep creates a vicious bi-directional cycle.  They know that bad sleep increases depression, anxiety, and trauma responses.  They know that depression and anxiety make getting good sleep harder.  You get the idea.  This has been proven over and over.  And over.  They call it “epiphenomenal”.  I can think of some other words for it, but you shouldn’t say those words in polite company.

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But the folks at UC Berkeley don’t seem to know that much about dissociative disorders and sleep.  Not yet.  They are smart cookies, so I suspect they will soon.

 Understanding severe childhood trauma and how to work with someone that has more than one identity state really isn’t their “thing”.  You would still need help managing the impact of living plural.  This suggests that combining work with a highly skilled trauma therapist with the CBT-i approach could really help adults with DID change their sleep for the better.

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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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