Recommendations for Resilience After Suffering Trauma
Recently I reviewed an excellent book by Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris called The Deepest Well. Dr. Burke-Harris explains how early trauma damages children’s brains, and how this damage degrades not only their mental health but also their physical health long term, even into adulthood. In her concluding chapter she lays out six ways that adults injured by childhood trauma can be more resilient:
- Get adequate sleep
- Get good nutrition
- Get regular exercise
- Practice meditation
- Get professional mental health treatment if necessary
- Connect to a supportive community in order to establish positive social relationships.
These are recommendations for sufferers of many kinds of trauma, including those experienced by military veterans.
The Importance of Getting Adequate Sleep
This IVW blog post offers a learning resource for the first of Dr. Burke-Harris’s recommendations, getting adequate sleep. Many people don’t realize how important this is. That’s why researcher Dr. Matthew Walker published Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. It turns out that for the vast majority of human beings (except for a very few who possess a rare gene) getting from seven to eight hours of sleep a night is essential for maintaining mental and physical health. Sleep cleanses the brain of toxins. It helps to regulate all of the body’s functions. Adequate sleep keeps us on an even keel in so many ways. It helps to regulate our blood sugar and blood pressure, tunes up our immune system, helps us concentrate, improves our memory, calms our nerves and moderates our moods. Scimping on sleep increases the likelihood of developing diabetes, cancers, and dementia. The human brain is the command center for all the organs of our complicated bodies, and adequate sleep is absolutely essential for that command center to run efficiently. Human beings can survive a deprivation of food longer than a depivation of sleep. Staying awake continually for about eleven days will kill you, writes Dr. Walker.
Veterans returning from combat often suffer insomnia. Their nervous systems have been on high alert for so long that they can’t easily be tuned down. So how is a veteran who is suffering from insomnia and disturbing nightmares supposed to obtain adequate sleep? Well, all of Dr. Burke-Harris’s recommendations are interconnected. Getting good nutrition and regular exercise, Dr. Walker explains, will help one sleep better. Taking up meditation will help calm the sympathetic nervous system, that is, the unconscious fight or flight mode of consciousness which living in a theater of war instills. And finally, seeking help from mental health professionals and supportive communities will help a veteran find safety of body and mind.
Whether or not you’re a veteran trying to come home and find calm, you may benefit from reading Why We Sleep. If you’ve been taking sleep for granted and shaving your bed time too thin, stop! Get the refreshment that not just your brain but your whole body needs.