If you experienced some form of childhood abuse or trauma, you likely struggle with sleeping well. This post discusses tips on how to sleep better after childhood trauma.
Many of the following tips are recommended by the National Sleep Foundation as well as other sleep organizations.
Create a comfortable and safe sleeping environment
Trauma often leaves us feeling unsafe, which can make it hard to feel calm enough to fall asleep. So the first thing you can do to try to get better sleep is to create a comfortable and safe sleeping environment.
Here are some general tips to increase the comfort level of your sleeping environment.
Set temperatures at a comfortable level
Set the temperature at a level that makes you the most comfortable, preferably on the cooler side since our body temperatures tend to rise when we sleep.
Consider getting a fan, cooling pad, or cooling blanket to cool you off throughout the night. And if you get easily cold, consider a mini heater or a heated mattress pad.
A heating pad, cooling blanket, or one that can do both, can do wonders in keeping you comfortable at night. It can be a great product if your heating/cooling system isn’t up to par or you share a room or bed with someone that has different temperature preferences than you.
Keep the room dark
Light is the biggest factor when it comes to melatonin production. Therefore, a dark room is often preferred to increase sleep quality.
Try to keep brightness at a minimum to achieve maximum darkness in your sleeping environment.
- Cover lights that might come from computers, TV, or other electronics using tape or sticky notes
- Install blackout shades, drapes, or curtains for all windows
- Wear an eye mask while sleeping
- Have a nightlight, dim light, or a light dimmer in the bathroom so bright lights won’t wake you up in case you need to go during the night. It’s also useful for when you’re getting ready for bed, better preparing your body for sleep.
For some people, a dark room might make sleeping worse if darkness is triggering. If that’s the case for you, keep a nightlight in the room or keep a light on in the closet, bathroom, or hall.
Even when we’re sleeping, our ears aren’t. So any sudden sounds can startle us awake. And if you’re like me, just a subtle change in the surrounding sounds can wake me.
If you are easily woken up by sounds or simply want to reduce or minimize them, here are some methods to try.
Earplugs are effective in reducing sounds. However, if you find generic ones uncomfortable, opt for earplugs or similar items designed specifically for sleeping.
For example, there are moldable, silicone plugs that are safer than plastic ones and are flexible which minimizes pressure. Another example is sleep headbands, which are preferred choices for people who don’t want to stuff something in their ears.
White noise tends to be the most effective for me in reducing sounds because it blocks out the sound. You can get white noise from an app, a fan, or a white noise machine.
You can also consider playing white noise videos or audio out loud. But where the sound starts and ends can sometimes be jarring, which can disrupt sleep or distract you from falling asleep. There’s also the risk of having ads.
I prefer a white noise machine because I can adjust the volume, set a timer, and have various options to choose from. I simply go with one of the white noise options for sleeping. But other options, like rain or wave sounds, can be relaxing to listen to before bed. This is the one I’m currently using and it’s been great!
If you’re scared of the dark or prefer a nightlight, this machine is also great. You can also set a timer to have the noise and/or nightlight turn off after a certain amount of time.
Absorb or deflect sounds
A way to absorb sound in the room is to have a padded headboard, hang drapes, or put sound studio foam on the walls. Studio foam, however, is usually the most effective.
To deflect sounds, any object in the room that’s between flat walls will do the job. So hanging a few pictures, adding a plant, or whatever else in the room can help deflect sounds. However, it’s hard to get enough silence by absorbing or deflecting sounds. I still suggest using white noise or earplugs on top of this to truly keep sounds at a minimum while sleeping.
Have a comfortable mattress
If you have a low-quality mattress or one that’s not the right firmness or material, it can affect your sleep quality. You might toss and turn often at night due to discomfort. Or you might wake up with random aches and pains. Certain mattresses might also make you feel hot.
You can consider getting a new mattress. This can be a big investment, but considering you spend about a third of your life in bed, it’s one of the more important things you can buy. Memory foam mattresses are also generally less expensive than other mattress types.
You can experiment with different mattresses to find one that works for you at a mattress or furniture store. Some online stores also have trials you can take advantage of.
However, if you can’t afford one now or you sleep with someone who likes the current mattress, you can look into mattress toppers. They can be a great alternative to replacing a whole mattress.
Mattress toppers can go over only one side of the bed. They also come in different materials, thicknesses, and firmness. For example, you can get a cooling topper specifically if your mattress is making you hot.
Have comfortable pillows
Choosing the right pillow for you depends on your sleeping position and the type of sleeping problems you have. It also depends on your preference for pillow firmness/fluffiness and filling.
- Memory foam contours the shape of the neck and head. It may be preferable if you have back, neck, or shoulder problems.
- Latex offers back and neck support and is hypoallergenic
- Buckwheat pillows are environmentally friendly, naturally cooling, and tend to last much longer than traditional pillows.
- Down pillows tend to be light and are best for stomach sleepers since they don’t offer as much support
Many people seem to favor the buckwheat pillow, claiming it as one of the comfiest and healthiest pillows available.
Consider the air quality
Air quality in your sleeping environment can affect your sleep, especially if you have allergies or breathing issues like asthma.
One way to test air quality at home is with an air monitor.
However, if you feel like the air quality isn’t good without even needing to test it, here are a few things you can do to improve the air:
- Don’t vacuum, dust, or clean your room at least a few hours before bedtime since particles can stay airborne for up to two hours
- If you live in a polluted city, keep your windows closed
- Use an air purifier, preferably a high-quality one
- Add plants that clean the air in your room
Other possible ways to increase comfort levels
Effective weighted blankets put the right amount of extra weight on your body to simulate light hands-on pressure that can help calm you and your nervous system. It’s intended to mimic the feeling of being hugged or held.
Studies show that weighted blankets appear to be effective against insomnia. They also contribute to daytime functioning for patients with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and ADHD.
If you’re interested in getting a weighted blanket, opt for one with micro glass beads, smaller pockets, and added filler if possible, like this one. They might be more pricey but these features make the blanket quieter and less likely to shift.
If you don’t like the look of typical weighted blankets, check out knit weighted blankets. They tend to be more expensive, but are also more breathable due to their design. As a bonus, for each blanket sold, the company also donates a blanket to a community in need.
Weighted eye masks
Weighted eye masks are also believed to help you sleep better.
Although research for weighted eye masks isn’t as telling, many people who have tried weighted eye masks claim they’re beneficial.
Other ways to feel safer during sleep
- Someone you trust can sleep in the same room with you. Or they can be in the room right next door.
- You can keep your phone on and near you so that you have access whenever you need to.
- Depending on what you prefer, you can keep the door closed and locked while sleeping if you live alone or are afraid of someone you’re living with. Or you can keep the door open or ajar if there’s someone or a form of comfort outside of your room that can easily reach you when needed.
- If darkness frightens you, you can keep a nightlight, dim light, or outside light on.
- Make sure your smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detector are all active and working.
- Have a security system and/or video surveillance installed.
- Make sure all windows and doors are locked.
Release stress and relax before bed
Whatever you do during the day can affect your sleep. So if you’re experiencing stress throughout the day, it can hurt your sleep.
Additionally, you likely have a higher level of cortisol due to your trauma, which makes you even more likely to have sleeping issues.
Activating your body’s relaxation response is a natural way to combat stress. And when you are relaxed, it’ll be easier to fall asleep.
Adopt a before-bed routine that can help you calm down. Having a routine before you sleep can also condition your brain off when it’s time to sleep.
Relaxation has a similar effect on the body as sleep – your pulse slows down, your blood pressure drops, and your stress hormones decrease. So it’s a good indicator for your mind and body to get ready for bed.
Your before-bed routine should be something relaxing. Try to avoid stimulating activities like work.
Here are some ways to relax before bed.
Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, body scan practice, or deep breathing before bed can be very effective to help calm your mind and prepare your body for bed.
You can also get a meditation app that will guide you through various meditations. There are also sleep aid devices that provide different types of guided meditation sessions you can choose from.
Stretching can help reduce stress, thus helping you fall asleep faster. It can also help ease cramps and aches that might disrupt your sleep during the night. You can also practice breathing as you stretch to get the most out of it.
Massage is widely used in all cultures to treat chronic stress and anxiety.
During a massage, your body releases serotonin and dopamine while decreasing cortisol. These effects help promote relaxation, which may help you fall asleep faster and sleep better.
Massage can also help manage pain and tension caused by stress or injury. So if pains and aches are disturbing your sleep, a massage might help decrease that discomfort so that you’d have fewer sleep disturbances.
You can look into massage therapy. But massage from your significant other or even an item could be beneficial as well.
One of the simplest and least expensive massage items is a massage ball. But if you want something electric, a massage pillow, gun, or foot massager could be great. They’re portable, easy to use, and can be self-implemented. And a massage chair pad or even a massage chair might be preferable if you want something that covers most or all of your body.
A study found that taking a warm bath or shower about 90 minutes before bed could help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep better, especially if the temperature and timing of the bath are just right.
The basic idea of a warm bath or shower at night is that it causes a drop in core body temperature. That signals the pineal gland to signal the production of melatonin.
Baths specifically change your body temperature more quickly since it surrounds the body. But either baths or showers would aid in falling asleep quicker and sleeping better as long as you don’t do it too close to bedtime.
Other tips to relax before bed
- Listen to soothing music
- Read a book that isn’t too stimulating
- Play a relaxing game
- Watch something mindless
- Practice gratitude: lay back and think about the positive things that happened in your day
- Avoid stimulating activities like doing work or homework
- Avoid exercising right before bed
Develop certain habits
Certain habits you have or don’t have might contribute to your sleep problems.
Here are some habits you can consider adopting to get better sleep.
Maintain a sleep schedule
One of the most recommended ways on how to sleep better at night is to maintain a sleep schedule.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including on weekends. Routine is important for getting restful quality sleep.
Doing this helps you get in sync with your circadian rhythm. It helps your body be more prepared for when it’s time to rest.
Expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day
If possible, expose yourself to sunlight early in the morning and throughout the first half of the day.
Temperature influences your circadian rhythm. Being exposed to warmer temperatures in the morning will signal your brain to wake up. Getting some vitamin D may also contribute to better sleep.
Reserve your bedroom or bed for sleeping and sex only
Your body and brain are conditioned to certain things whether you like it or not.
Having other associations with your bed may prevent you from quality sleep. But if you’re only using your bedroom or bed for sleeping, once you enter that room or get on that bed, you’re signaling to your brain that you’re getting ready to sleep.
Limit or avoid naps
Try your best not to nap if you can so you don’t ruin your sleep schedule. However, if you need to, try to limit them to around 10 to 20 minutes. This is also known as a power nap. If you’re sleep-deprived, you can go for a 90-minute one.
If you nap for over 20 but under 90 minutes, you will be in the deeper stages of sleep. So when you wake up during those stages, you’ll feel groggy. 90 minutes is typically when your body has gone through one complete sleep cycle.
Also, try to avoid taking a nap too late in the day. The best time for naps is typically 1 to 1:30 for early risers and 2:30 to 3 for late risers. If you take one too late in the day, it can negatively affect your sleep at night.
Don’t expose yourself to bright or blue lights before bed
It is recommended that you don’t expose yourself to bright lights, especially blue light, within one to two hours of going to bed.
For example, if you’re brushing and getting ready for bed in the bathroom, use a nightlight, dim light, or perhaps a hall light instead of the usual bright bathroom lights. You can also install a dimmer to your existing light.
This can also be useful when you need to wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Bright lights can wake you up too much causing you to have trouble falling asleep after.
If you’re using any electronics, use blue light filters. Computers, phones, and tablets should either have a built-in filter or an app you can download that blocks blue light like flu.x. As for TVs, since they don’t have blue-light blockers, you can consider blue-light-blocking glasses.
Research claims that people who exercise more regularly sleep better at night. And the more intense the exercise, the more you benefit. On the contrary, a lack of exercise is associated with insomnia.
Exercise also releases endorphins that help with anxiety and depression.
Avoid eating or drinking at night
Drinking too much in the evening can cause you to get up during the night to use the bathroom. This interrupts the sleep cycle, thus affecting the quality of your sleep.
Eating too much within three hours of going to bed can also contribute to bad sleep due to the possibility of acid reflux. This is especially true for acidic or spicy foods that are tougher to digest.
Sugary foods or drinks if consumed at night may trigger wakefulness.
As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid eating within three hours before bed. If you’re hungry go for a small, light snack that isn’t sugary or spicy.
Consume caffeine only in the morning
Caffeine is a common cause of people not sleeping well. It can cause issues with your sleep up to 12 hours after drinking it. Experts recommend keeping your consumption to the mornings and sticking with decaf later in the day.
Eat a healthy diet
Certain nutrients and foods or lack thereof may contribute to sleep quality and quantity.
- Low levels of magnesium often lead to restless sleep and frequent wakefulness throughout the night.
- Tryptophan increases the production of serotonin and promotes sleep.
- Calcium helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin.
- According to research, a lack of vitamin D may lead to daytime sleepiness. The best source is sun exposure. If that’s not possible, consider a therapy lamp.
- A study found that without potassium channels, slow-wave sleep may not occur.
- Selenium deficiency can cause trouble with falling asleep.
- A study found that omega 3s help you sleep longer and have fewer sleep disturbances.
- Complex carbs break down slowly and prevent blood sugar spikes, which keeps serotonin levels consistent. Meanwhile, try to avoid simple carbs and sugars, especially before bed.
Other tips to sleep better
Melatonin is a hormone that plays an important role in regulating the sleep cycle. Studies show that it can be effective in helping people fall asleep.
Melatonin is something you can easily purchase online, at a pharmacy, or in a grocery store. But I suggest consulting a doctor before trying it.
Practice lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming is when you’re aware that you are dreaming.
With anxiety and past trauma, you may struggle with nightmares. And those nightmares might make it hard to fall or stay asleep.
For me, realizing I’m dreaming makes it a little less anxiety-provoking. It helps me recognize that I have the power to control my dreams (to an extent). It varies from dream to dream and took a lot of practice. But being able to at least be aware that I’m dreaming helps a lot with my anxiety because “It doesn’t matter what happens in here now because this is not real.”
You can learn to be aware when you’re dreaming by performing reality checks and noticing signs and patterns in your dream. Keeping a dream journal and reminding yourself right before you sleep that you will be dreaming might also help.
Writing down your dreams immediately upon waking and keeping track of them may help you notice patterns or signs that only seem to appear in your dreams. So when those patterns or signs appear, you might think, “Am I dreaming?”
Once you can ask yourself that question while you’re dreaming, you should be able to lucid dream.
Don’t force sleep
If you find yourself tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep for around 20 minutes or more, it’s probably best to get out of bed. Meanwhile, try to do a relaxing activity until you’re tired. And when you’re tired, you can try again.
Staying in bed when you can’t sleep could create an association between the bed and sleeplessness. That’s another reason why it’s important to reserve the bed for sleeping and sex only.
Change your attitude towards sleep
Similar to performance anxiety, when you put pressure on yourself to sleep well or to fall asleep quickly, it may do the opposite.
People that tend to sleep better often have an easygoing view of sleep. Their mindset is that whatever happens happens. They don’t worry about whether or not they’re going to get any sleep. They just do it.
I know this can be very hard, especially if you struggle with anxiety. But try to go to sleep with no expectations. Try to let it be and don’t pressure yourself.
And if you do have trouble falling asleep or getting good sleep, don’t beat yourself up over it. This is something you can keep trying.
Track your progress
As you try to get better sleep using the various tips in this post, you can track your progress in various ways.
Tracking your progress helps you see whether your sleep is improving. It also helps you notice patterns so you can try to figure out what might’ve caused them.
- Keep a journal to write down what times you go to sleep and wake up, how many total hours of sleep you got, and rate the quality of your sleep.
- Install an app where you manually enter the data mentioned above so you can see charts and graphs to get a better visual of your progress.
- Use a sleep tracker like a smartwatch, ring, or pad to track your sleep.
One popular product for this that I also personally recommend is a Fitbit. It records your night’s sleep and provides data like the total number of hours slept, sleep activity throughout the night (such as sleep cycles, movements, duration), and a sleep score based on that activity. All that data syncs to their app for easy reading.
It also tracks steps, heart rate, and has other functions like any other smartwatch, such as showing texts and other notifications.
Maybe you’re still having trouble despite making adjustments to your lifestyle and environment and you don’t know what else it can be. Or maybe you want to get to the bottom of exactly why you can’t seem to sleep well before implementing any of the tips.
Either way, seeking help from a professional can help you get some answers.
Since trauma contributes to both physical and psychological issues, it can be an overlapping number of factors that keep you from sleeping better. So consider consulting both a medical and mental health professional to get to the bottom of it.
A physician can help determine whether you have an underlying physical condition that might cause you to have sleeping problems. They might also refer you to a sleeping clinic so your sleeping activity can be analyzed by experts.
You can reach out to a therapist who might be able to determine if you have mental health conditions that are keeping you from sleeping well. They can also help you develop tools and coping methods to heal and sleep better.
If you’d like more information on how to sleep better, here are some books and workbooks you can check out.
Sign up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited to read some of these titles for free or at a discount. Or sign up for a free trial with Audible and claim an audiobook for free, which is yours to keep even when you cancel.
- The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It by W. Chris Winter
- The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep by William C. Dement
- Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
- The Post-Traumatic Insomnia Workbook: A Step-by-Step Program for Overcoming Sleep Problems After Trauma by Karin Elorriaga Thompson and C. Laurel Franklin
- The Sleep Workbook: Easy Strategies to Break the Anxiety-Insomnia Cycle by Renata Alexandre
How you want to approach trying to improve your sleep is up to you. And how you can get better sleep depends on you and your body. What works for others might not work for you and vice versa.
Also, you are the one who can tell how much quality sleep you’re getting and how helpful certain methods are. If you still don’t feel fully rested despite sleeping 9 hours, trust yourself. Try to find out why so you can resolve it.
Quality sleep is essential for your health and healing. But it may be a challenge to achieve. So please be patient and kind to yourself as you go through trials and errors. Hopefully, the changes you make can help you start sleeping better.
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
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