A few days ago, my daughter and I were in the car, driving to get her a haircut. Her dad had bought her a super sized Blow Pop and after eating the sucker part, she managed to get all the gum in her hair. I cut it out, but it looked horrible, so her back to school haircut was coming a little early. Out of nowhere, she commented that she wished her daddy was normal. That caught me off guard. I asked her what she meant and she said she wished he was able to do fun things with her all the time. That is about the saddest conversation we’ve ever had. I explained that he just wasn’t feeling good that day and we talked about all the fun things they do together.
She had been bugging him all day to take her to the pool. Problem was that he hadn’t been feeling good all day and he hadn’t slept the night before. The lack of sleep isn’t abnormal for him though. Like a lot of vets with PTSD, he has problems sleeping. On average, he’ll barely sleep for 2-3 days, then crash hard. For this reason, I let him sleep when I see him sleeping. He has tried numerous over the counter and prescription sleep aids and nothing has worked for him. He has tried every trick in the book to fall asleep and it doesn’t work. He’ll just lay there for hours or eventually get up and do something else. He is to the point where he is so accustomed to it that he just carries on and naps if he can.
A study performed by the Sleep Disorders Laboratory at the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, MS, found that 70 to 90 percent of those with PTSD also suffer from sleep disturbances. PTSD sufferers have much higher cases of insomnia, nightmares, restless sleep and also sleep-related breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea..
There are a number of chemicals in the brain that can affect sleep regularity and insomnia. Norepinephrine, which creates the flight or fight response in us, is one of the chemicals that helps regulate sleep, but when there is trauma involved, it deregulates the sleep cycle and can play a part in depression and decreased attention. It also has a role in memory, but with trauma, the memories aren’t always filed correctly in the brain.
Serotonin also mediates sleep, as well as memory and learning, but again, these are disrupted after trauma. Serotonin helps keep behavior in balance, but after trauma and high levels of norepinephrine, it’s effectiveness goes down, leading to hostility and depression. When the brain has too much cortisol, it messes up the sleep cycle. Cortisol is an anti-stress hormone that is mean to reduce the norepinephrine flight/fight response.
Sleep is also affected by an increase in dopamine, with REM sleep being affected by a reduction in acetylcholine. On top of that the adrenaline suppresses the immune system. That right there tells you why he has sleep problems and gets sick more than he should. The body can’t heal without rest. When these guys aren’t sleeping, their bodies can never completely heal. I think his sleep has gotten worse since I first met him.
After I attended the Caregiver’s Retreat in May, I realized how normal this was. So many wives there said the exact same thing. Their husbands just don’t sleep and it affects other areas of their lives. The therapist who spoke to us that day, which is where I learned the above information, even asked whose husband’s only slept every few days. Who knew it was so normal?