Can’t Sleep!

When Stress & Trauma Cause Sleeplessness

Help for Insomnia Sleep Problems

By Grantley Morris

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Sleep Disorder

    When it persists, insomnia is serious. It not only threatens health, insomnia is literally torture. It is with good reason that the Nazis, KGB, CIA, and many other grotesque groups have included sleep deprivation in their torture regime.

    Insomnia is a minefield of vicious circles. For just one example: an excessive fear of being in danger (paranoia) will obviously greatly hinder sleep, but sleep deprivation often worsens paranoia.

    So if anything is drastically hindering your sleep, I yearn to see it resolved. Researching and crafting this webpage has taken much effort and I regard my time and your time as too precious to waste on platitudes, bogus quick fixes or just providing information that could easily be found elsewhere on the Internet. On the other hand, some of my suggestions are much more important than others.

    Christine, has partnered with me in writing this webpage. She has had an exceptionally long and bitter battle with insomnia caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Dissociative Identity Disorder.

    Here are some points worth considering:

    Sleeping pills, alcohol and drugs will probably worsen your sleep problem

    I sincerely wish that all you had to do was swallow a pill every night and your sleep problems would be over. Occasional use of sleeping pills might not be detrimental but, unfortunately, regular use of either over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills not only usually becomes less effective over time and can cause dependence problems, they can actually end up worsening one’s sleep problem.

    Alcohol, tobacco, certain prescribed medication and even some herbs can have an adverse effect on one’s sleep.

    Don’t imagine you can avoid nightmares by not sleeping

    By studying their eyelids, researchers can tell when sleepers are dreaming. Volunteers were woken whenever they began to dream, thus preventing them from dreaming. They discovered that this caused them to begin dreaming more and more frequently.

    This suggests that, at most, not sleeping will only slightly delay the inevitable nightmares and will actually end up giving you less nightmare-free sleep.

    And not only can flashbacks – traumatic past experiences remembered so vividly that it is as if they are being relived – occur when you are awake, severe sleep deprivation actually causes hallucinations, even in people who have never in their life been traumatized.

    Writes Christine, “Nightmares (or their equivalent) can occur when I am awake as well as asleep. Sleep doesn’t cause, cure or change flashbacks. I had to stop blaming sleep.”

    Nightmares are caused not by sleep but by unresolved issues – especially emotionally disturbing matters that you refuse to deal with consciously. It is your mind telling you that this issue is too serious to keep trying to bury it. The best way to avoid nightmares is to stop avoiding the underlying matter. It will not be instant, but the way to peace is by consciously facing the issue and seeking to resolve it through thought, prayer and talking it over with people. This can take great courage but the rewards are immense, even if they take time to materialize.

    Convince yourself that sleep is no luxury

    Although worrying about not sleeping should be avoided as it can become yet another thing keeping you from sleeping, we must accept the reality that sleep deprivation makes you more susceptible to various illnesses. Moreover, research confirms that tiredness impairs one’s performance on a vast range of tasks, making you less competent in virtually everything. It not only lowers your quality of life but makes you a danger to yourself and others when driving and making critical decisions.

    Whatever problems you started off with, weakening yourself physically and mentally by not sleeping will significantly worsen and multiply your problems. Even though you intellectually accept this obvious fact, inwardly believing this is not always as simple as one might expect. To put it in a very loose, unscientific way: subconsciously, you might not think you need sleep.

    As bizarre as it might initially seem, sometimes people who have suffered abusive childhoods can know that humans need sleep and yet be unknowingly affected by parts of their consciousness that do not realize they are human. For a brief explanation see Why Parts of You Might Not Realize You Are Human.

    This might mean little to some readers but those with Dissociative Identity Disorder – and more survivors of rough childhoods have it than realize it – can learn how to communicate with and help those parts of them that contribute to sleeplessness.

    Realize that you deserve sleep

    This simple fact can be very hard to accept. People who have suffered a harsh upbringing have often been effectively brainwashed during their most impressionable years to believe that they are bad and deserve to be punished. It is not unusual for them to end up believing this so strongly that when, as adults, no one else punishes them, they feel they should punish themselves. This self-punishment can take many forms but one form is to not let themselves sleep.

    Christine was so poor at seeing her own achievements that she had to ask God to show her. Afterward, she hung around her bed pictures (including holidays and fun things), awards and accomplishments (even if small) to help counter her self-hate and despairing, defeatist attitude toward herself.

    Don’t imagine that continually depriving yourself of sleep will increase your safety

    Christine used to sit on concrete outside her son’s bedroom to make sure he was safe from being kidnapped when that was a genuine threat. She would also sit up to watch for flooding whenever bad weather hit. She would sit up for national disasters, as if her sacrifice could stop them. She had to learn to let God, who doesn’t sleep, be on guard, trusting him to take care of things while she slept and that he would wake her if he wanted her involvement in any crisis. “He is a better sentry and protector than me,” she now says.

      Psalms 127:1-2  . . . Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.

    What really matters are not your efforts but God’s and what most moves the Almighty to act on your behalf is your faith, which is demonstrated by ceasing to strive and acting as if you can save yourself.

    Know that God cares so much that he longs to carry your burdens

    Christine discovered that lack of sleep was a significant reason for her inability to sleep. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder causes its victims to see potential danger where there is none and Christine knows from experience that this is worsened by sleep deprivation. It is a vicious merry-go-round that is hard to get off.

    The reality is that despite the ease with which anyone can quote Bible verses about God’s willingness to help, it can be exceedingly hard to reach the point where we can so rest in this truth that it allows us to sleep better. Moreover, the practical difficulty we humans have in finding so much peace that every trace of anxiety evaporates can cause us to feel condemned, which only magnifies our distress and feeling of isolation. This is such a complex and vital issue that space forbids me from adequately dealing with it here. So I have chosen to devote an entire webpage just to this matter. The link appears toward the end of this webpage.

    Write down the top ten things that bother you

    That’s what God told Christine. Then she sat down with him and figured out what she could scratch off the list.

    Once her worries were on paper she could look at them more objectively. For each one she would ask herself a series of questions:

      Why am I so worried about this?

      Is this of immediate concern? Do I have to worry about this tonight?

      Can I hand this concern over to God and trust him to handle it?

      How productive would worrying about this be? Would worrying about it achieve anything?

      Am I exercising productive concern that will end up resolving the problem or am I merely being harassed by unproductive fear?

      Would sleeping help me face the problem with a fresher mind and greater strength than if I stayed awake worrying about it?

    This analysis while remaining conscious of the presence of God not only helped unburden her, it gave a feeling of accomplishment as her list grew shorter.

    Discover the insomnia-fighting power of magnifying God in your mind

    Our thoughts have the power to calm or alarm; to fire nightmares or bless with sweet dreams. Keep this in mind as I rephrase what I’ve said elsewhere: if, in our thought life, praise magnifies our God, any alternative magnifies our problems.

    Who of us could expect a good night’s sleep if our distorted imaginations are flooded with an inflated view of our problems and a shriveled conception of the power of our Protector and of his eagerness to respond to our prayers?

    Few people have discovered just how powerful and life-transforming thanking and praising God is. Our failure to fully appropriate this power is because, although most of us imagine we have tried it, we typically engage in thanking and praising God with the half-heartedness of couch potatoes, rather than anything remotely approaching the steely resolve and daily discipline of Olympic champions.

    Like desperately needed medication, taking the following Scriptures as prescribed will have a profound effect, but taking them only when you feel like it will achieve little.

      Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything , by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

      Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

      1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances  . . .

      Hebrews 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise . . .

      Psalms 119:164 Seven times a day I praise you

      Psalms 34:1 . . . I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. (Emphasis mine)

    The above is a mere sampling of the many Scriptures that make it as obvious as knocking on your door with a sledge hammer that the divine Psychiatrist – the one who made our brains – prescribes huge daily dosages of praise and thanks. Grasp the fact that this is not the command of an ego-centric maniac but the best friend anyone could hope to have; the all-knowing Lord whose only Son sacrificed everything for your well-being. It is for your sake – for your mental and spiritual health – that he asks you to love and praise him.

    Annoyance, frustration and anxiety are the enemies of sleep, contentment and psychological health. Praising and thanking God is the most effective way of keeping these enemies at bay. This is particularly needed during the day to stop those unwanted feelings from surfacing when you should be sleeping. If they do surface when you are trying to sleep, you need the spiritual weapons of praise and thanksgiving but it’s not the ideal time for strenuous battle, both because of tiredness and because anything vigorous will make it harder to quickly settle down afterward and sleep.

    Praise has a role in the wee hours of the night:

      Psalms 149:5 Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.

    The main battle, however, should be fought during the day. Except in emergencies, late at night praise should be used less as a weapon and more as a sedative. Spiritually snuggle into God. Relax in him. Lazily and sleepily let a feeling of gratitude bathe you. Draw peace and comfort and assurance from him.

      Psalms 63:6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.

      Psalms 42:8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.

      Psalms 119:55 In the night I remember your name, O LORD . . .

    Only when thanks and praise are taken in sufficiently large and regular doses can we hope to stop problems from looming larger than life in our mind’s eye and God from shrinking below even the dim glimpse of his greatness and devotion to us that we humans are capable of conceiving.

    Let this Scripture change your life:

      Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Emphasis mine)

    The practical outworking of this faith in the miracle-working Lord is that we will continually thank and praise God for the answer to our prayers long before we see it.

    We suggested listing the things that worry you and seeing what you could scratch off the list. Here is the critical next step: with continual thanks and praise, commit to God everything left on that list.

    Set bedtime rituals

    Christine didn’t have the money to consult professionals but she knew someone who, like her, had been raped, and this friend was able to receive professional help. Christine was so desperate that she begged to be able to read her friend’s notes and even gave her friend questions to ask the professionals. One of the things she learned this way is that sleep experts emphasize the importance of bedtime rituals.

    These rituals might be a warm, relaxing shower or drinking a cup of herbal tea while sitting in the same chair each night. The idea is to teach the body you are nearing the time when you will sleep.

    Have a regular process – like a countdown – of gradually winding down, preparing one’s mind and body for sleep. Set times – not necessarily the same time for each activity – beyond which you will not eat (digestive issues can interfere with sleep), imbibe caffeine, have bright lights on, etc.

    An hour before bedtime Christine would start telling herself that she was going to sleep because God was taking over and was going to protect her.

    Another of her bedtime rituals was reading. This helped get her mind off her worries and focused on other things.

    Christine found that for more than a year all television had to be avoided as the images played back in her dreams and haunted her. Even if you decide not to take such drastic action, you might set a specific time beyond which you will not expose yourself to disturbing images and concerns such as the news with all its hype and half-truths.

    Christine faced daunting financial challenges. Eventually the Lord got her to the point where she would lean on him and speak out loud reassuring faith statements if ever money fears began to unsettle her. Nevertheless, as part of her bedtime routine she made herself avoid anything that had to do with money (such as Internet banking) toward bedtime.

    She found it particularly important to avoid relationship conflicts when nearing bedtime. Christine lived with her mother. This woman seemed to delight in getting Christine highly distressed close to bedtime or even waking Christine up and not letting her sleep. Cults and domestic abusers sometimes deliberately use strife and conflict before bed as a means of causing sleeplessness and “breaking” the victim into submission.

    In sheer desperation she sometimes even tried picking a fight with her mother during the day so that her mother would be too worn out to fight at night.

    An important part of one’s ritual is going to bed at the same time each night. We each have a body clock which, among other things, sets our sleep cycle, causing us to be sleepy some times and alert at other times. The clock is set by the routine we keep and when that routine is disturbed by, for example, jet lag or shiftwork, it drastically interferes with our ability to sleep. Unfortunately, getting up at odd hours when we cannot sleep can be equally disruptive to our sleep cycle and can create a vicious circle.

    So even if you cannot sleep, try to be consistent in spending the same time each night resting in bed with your eyes closed in a state as close to sleep as you can manage. Interestingly, studies have proved that some people sleep far better than they suppose.

    Avoid regularly doing in bed things that can easily be done elsewhere, such as eating, reading, or watching television

    Many sleep experts believe it is best to associate bed with sleep rather than let other activities dilute the connection in one’s mind.

    Be wary of weapons

    Christine had a very jittery neighbor who mistook her own husband for an intruder and shot him. This convinced Christine of the danger of keeping a gun handy.

    To help her feel more secure, Christine used to keep a knife under her pillow for protection. As many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder know, however, if alters get suicidal or deeply distressed they can harm themselves while the rest of the person sleeps. Waking up with cuts on her body and the knife covered in blood, with no memory of what happened, taught her that not even sleeping with a knife handy was safe.

    Unless your memory is perfect, keep a pen and paper and a low illumination lamp by your bed

    If, when trying to sleep, you think of something and you begin to have a niggling little concern that you might not remember it in the morning, jot it down so that you can now safely put it out of your mind until morning. Avoiding both a bright light and having to get out of bed to find writing materials will help keep your senses at a lower state of arousal, thus giving you a head start when you are ready to try to sleep again.

    Consider playing soft music throughout your time in bed

    Christine lived in an old house that creaked and groaned and people in it sometimes kept odd hours. Her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was such that almost every sound had the potential to startle her. Background music helped both to relax her and to block out unwanted sounds.

    The choice of music is important. Research has shown that one’s heart-rate and level of agitation varies according to the type of music one is hearing. Ideally, have your own music set up so that it plays all night. A radio with variable music interrupted by an announcer is likely to be less effective.

    Could a pet help?

    Christine used her cat as an intruder alarm. Whenever she woke up concerned that there might be an intruder she would roll over and see her cat. Since animals have heightened senses, she could reassure herself that if her cat were sleeping there wasn’t any danger.

    If all else fails, hug your teddy

    After one twenty-one day stretch of sleeplessness Christine bought a large, cuddly teddy bear. She found she could hug and cry into it without anyone knowing. It helped.

    Seek extra help

    I am saddened that not everyone can afford professional help with their sleeping problem. Nevertheless, insomnia can so much lower one’s quality of life that I suggest you prayerfully consider making obtaining help a financial priority.

    Medical help can be invaluable. There are a number of medical conditions that could cause sleep problems, most commonly:

      A side effect of medication.

      Restless Leg Syndrome: a disorder that causes an uncontrollable tingling in one’s leg or arm that will not stop unless the limb is moved or rubbed.

      Sleep apnea: a dangerous problem that one would expect the person afflicted would be conscious of but typically has no idea that he wakes very many times each night just to gasp a breath of air.

      Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Those with this condition are often unaware of it.


      Serious depression. Again many people suffer from clinical depression without realizing it.

    Unfortunately, many doctors feel pressured to limit consultation to a few minutes and some have a tendency to rely too heavily upon drugs that are not only not a long term solution but can end up worsening the problem. Sometimes the pressure to prescribe pills comes from patients.

    Research has provided psychologists with techniques that have proved quite effective in training people how to overcome sleep difficulties. Some of these methods can be learned by reading about them over the Internet.

    More Help

    Although I have provided some practical tips, my primary focus has been factors that are commonly overlooked in webpages about insomnia, especially the spiritual aspects and the complications to sleep problems that such things as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociate Identity Disorder add.

    If demons or ghosts appear to you at night or you suffer sleep paralysis or have “out of body” experiences, see Deliverance from Sleep Paralysis with Hallucinations: Out of Body Experiences, Lucid Dreaming, Astral Travel, Haunted Houses, Ghosts, Demonic Attacks.

    I will summarize what we have covered and on those subjects that I have significant additional help, I will provide links.

    Sleeping pills, alcohol and drugs will probably worsen your sleep problem

    Don’t imagine you can avoid nightmares by not sleeping

    Convince yourself that sleep is no luxury

    Realize that you deserve sleep

    Don’t imagine that continually depriving yourself of sleep will increase your safety

    Know that God cares so much that he longs to carry your burdens

    Write down the top ten things that bother you

    Discover the insomnia-fighting power of magnifying God in your mind

    Set bedtime rituals

    Avoid regularly doing in bed things that can easily be done elsewhere, such as eating, reading, or watching television

    Be wary of weapons

    Unless your memory is perfect, keep a pen and paper and a low illumination lamp by your bed

    Consider playing soft music throughout your time in bed

    Could a pet help?

    If all else fails, hug your teddy

    Be wary of weapons

    Seek extra help

      Do an internet search for authoritative articles on insomnia.

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    Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2011, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.

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