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Home / Articles / Health / After Trauma, Sleep May Be What You Need Most

After Trauma, Sleep May Be What You Need Most

Your brain needs the extra rest to repair and recover

After Trauma, Sleep May Be What You Need Most

After surviving trauma, your brain may emulate a small child hyped up on a candy binge, except instead of sugar, it’s overloaded with epinephrine and adrenaline. These neurochemicals cause your brain to be overstimulated and unable to calm down. In order to keep us safe, our brain is ready to send our body into fight or flight mode at any second, even though we’re trying to convince it that we’re no longer in imminent danger.

This can be both mentally and physically exhausting. You may feel like you’re at the point of collapse which, say experts, is exactly what you should do. Preferably onto a bed.

Sleep “Cleans Out” Our Brains

“It is more important than ever at this point to give your mind the rest it needs, and that is through sleep,” says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and the founder of “Sleep is the time when our brains almost empty of the stress we have after a traumatic event.”

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Sleep is a vitally important part of the healing process for multiple reasons. According to scientists, among the things sleep does for us is …

  • Reenergizes your body’s cells. Yay, energy!
  • Clears waste from the brain. This can help prevent degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
  • Supports learning and memory. Your brain will preserve important memories better while clearing away some of the clutter, helping you feel more clear-headed and better able to make decisions.
  • Plays a vital role in regulating mood, appetite and libido
  • Help our bodies heal from injuriesWhen we’re asleep, our brain can trigger the release of a hormone that helps grow new tissue, which repairs minor injuries and sore muscles. 
  • Create more white blood cells. This is our defense against bacteria and viruses, lessening our chance of getting sick.   

A Trick to Help Quiet the Mind

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We should all aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, says Fish, though after, or especially in the midst of abuse, this could prove difficult. 

“After experiencing a traumatic event, your mind will be spinning and you will also have physical side effects such as increased heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, etcetera."

Many survivors may find that at night their brains become vigilant bodyguards, keeping them awake and on high alert for any signs of danger. The brain might produce flashbacks of the abuse while awake or nightmares of it after one falls asleep. 

The next time your mind wants to replay traumatic memories right at the moment you want to close your eyes, try this: Unload. There’s a reason domestic violence hotlines are staffed 24/7 with trained advocates—they want to be there whenever you need to talk it out. Find a hotline near you and talk out your worries, fears, anxieties or questions with someone who can understand what you’re going through and, in essence, calm your brain before laying down. 

If it’s not safe to make that call or talking to a stranger makes you uncomfortable, journal your thoughts before bed. Write down whatever your brain is most vocal about. Write down questions. Write down things you’re grateful for. Write down your goals for tomorrow. Write down your accomplishments of that day. Then tuck the paper away and tell yourself you won’t think about it until tomorrow. 

You can find other tips for quieting your mind in “6 Ways to Get Better Sleep.

According to experts, it’s better not to force sleep. If you’re still lying awake in bed an hour after you laid down, try getting up and doing another activity for 15-20 minutes. Read a book, pet the dog, walk around, phone a friend (if it’s not the middle of the night) and then try again. 

Same Rules for Kids?

Fish says, as a general rule, kids need more sleep than adults, and this is especially true during or following trauma. 

“Children are also more prone to experiencing nightmares, so it may be in your best interest to sleep in the same room with your child for a couple of weeks after they experience said trauma,” he advises. 

For more tips on helping children heal, read, “How to Help Children Find Their Courage Again After Trauma.