The Profound Consequences of Trauma and Insomnia
A summary of my preferred methods for treating trauma, insomnia, and unresolved emotions.
One of the things I am constantly amazed by is how little events in people’s childhood (e.g., someone being mean to them or not reciprocating their affection) can shape their unconscious mind and then ripple out and dictate the course of the individual’s life. Not surprisingly, more traumatic events can have much larger consequences, and as Gabor Maté showed in his book about the lived experiences of many drug addicts he worked with, those events can create profound alterations in the individual’s nervous system which make it difficult if not impossible to live a normal life.
As the years have gone by, the medical field and society fortunately have gradually become more open to the idea that previous trauma can profoundly impact an individual’s life and that it is a national priority to find ways to address it. I believe this has been primarily due to the military being forced to confront the costs of the PTSD created by its recent wars in the Middle East and the recent pivotal ACEs study, which quantified the profound impact of early childhood events on health outcomes throughout one’s life span. The CDC, for example (yes the CDC), when discussing ACEs (childhood traumas), states that:
ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.
Preventing ACEs could potentially reduce many health conditions. For example, by preventing ACEs, up to 1.9 million heart disease cases and 21 million depression cases could have been potentially avoided.
Note: indigenous populations are at an exceptionally high risk of ACEs. For example, compared with participants in the ACE study, American Indians had a significantly higher rate of exposure to any trauma (86% vs. 52%) and a more than 5-fold risk of having been exposed to 4 or more categories of adverse childhood experiences (33% vs. 6.2%).
The condition most directly linked to severe trauma and stress is heart disease (as for a variety of reasons, the heart is quite sensitive to it—best demonstrated by this medical condition), and in my eyes, Kendrick has made a good case that it is a primary cause of heart disease. Kendrick has collected a large amount of evidence that argues severe trauma and societal stress (e.g., war or the economy collapsing—as was seen when the Soviet Union dissolved) have profound health consequences for the society.
Note: this long-term increase in death will be another sad consequence of the War in Ukraine (which I shared my thoughts on here).
Another common cause of severe widespread psychosocial stress is cultural dislocation, something which occurs when a colonial power forcefully relocates a native population to an environment they are not familiar with. Once there, they are treated quite poorly, and it’s quite difficult to truly appreciate just what they experience unless you witness it firsthand.
Sticking to CHD, which basically means deaths from heart attacks, researchers found that the CHD rate in Austrailian Aboriginals was 14.9 per 1000/year versus 2.4 for the general population. This is 1,490 per 100,000 per year [this is metric most commonly used] and represents the highest rate I have ever seen in any population, in any country, at any time – ever. Although Belarus came pretty close at one point.
Note: some of the original evidence irrefutably linking sudden infant death syndrome to vaccination was collected in the reserves the Aboriginees were placed within by Australia’s government. This was because, due to their poorer living conditions, the deadly side effects of the vaccines were much more frequently observed.
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However, while a much greater focus is being placed on trauma now (to the point everyone is to some extent traumatized), I do not believe most of the approaches we are utilizing are particularly effective. Much of what is in this article builds upon or references the first half, so I would advise having read it before you read further.
In that article, I argued that our fundamental misunderstanding of emotions is viewing them as abstract ideas which can be controlled and suppressed by conscious thought rather than recognizing they are tangible things we must not obstruct the flow of. By allowing them to flow, emotions are able to exit us and become a distant memory, whereas, with our typical behaviors, they often cannot, leading to the emotions festering inside each of us and often creating long-term issues for each individual.
Trauma is essentially the same process but much more intense and typically caused by an external source. For this reason, any time you meet a traumatized individual, once you know how to look for it, you can see numerous signs of how the trauma lodged within them, and resolution of the trauma typically requires it somehow leaving their body.
Note: The Body Keeps the Score (written in 2014) is considered by many to be one of the books that best describes the profound changes trauma inflicts throughout the body.
Unfortunately, beyond this being difficult to do (thus why there is such immense variability in the results practitioners who treat trauma have for those under their care), this model violates the materialistic paradigm upon which Western Science is built. Since we as a society deny most of the integration between the body, mind, and spirit (and often even the existence of much of it), methods focused on directly releasing trauma trapped within these areas are extremely lacking within the conventional paradigm.
Instead, some people have a resiliency where they don’t store trauma (it passes through them), which to some extent can also be trained by not holding onto emotions (discussed in the previous article). For the majority who don’t have that resiliency, our society instead does the worst thing it can to them and regularly encourages those in the younger generations to identify themselves with their trauma and continually do everything they can to hold onto it.
This causes them to lose their ability to release the trauma so it can become a distant memory, and, like some of the substances discussed in the first half of this series, dramatically weakens their resiliency to stressful situations at all reminiscent of the trauma. Consider, for example, the widespread proliferation of trigger warnings (which have been proven to actually increase rather than decrease anxiety) or safe spaces (which many also believe are counterproductive).
While I can’t prove this, each time I’ve seen victimhood resulting from trauma be glorified and shielded from any discussion (this has been a gradually increasing problem over the last twenty years), I have suspected it is being done so the “victims” can be used as political tools to advance the narrative of those enshrining their victimhood. I feel genuinely bad for many of these people and how much they suffer. So, regardless of the justification, I can’t condone anyone who puts forward policies that prevent the “victim” from letting go of their trauma and moving on with their life.
Note: one of the unfortunate changes I’ve noticed in the younger generation is that they have much more severe autonomic dysregulation. As stated in the previous article, I believe this widespread issue is largely a product of vagal nerve dysfunction (but I also believe other factors like social media and pharmaceutical injuries are likely contributing too).
Because of this autonomic dysfunction, I frequently observe younger individuals (particularly those with liberal leanings) decompensate entirely (e.g., have a panic attack) when they are presented with an unpleasant but relatively minor stimulus. This autonomic instability becomes even more of an issue if the individual has an existing trauma (hence leading to far more triggers for them). Furthermore, the media continually eggs this on (e.g., consider just how many times the media used Trump to bring people into a hysteria)—and I can only wonder what the younger generations will look like in the future.
One of the most significant challenges when dealing with trauma is that pain is often much more addictive than anything else, including pleasure. As a result, people will hold onto it very tightly (an issue further compounded by society elevating their victimhood and identification with the trauma). Because of this, individuals will often habitually focus on why their trauma happened or come up with stories that recast the events that led to their trauma as them being “right” and everyone else being “wrong.”
Although this is harder to recognize initially, all of it is simply another way of contracting into the emotion underlying the trauma (not all that different from the way people clench to “alleviate” pain—something that at best gives very fleeting relief) rather than accepting what they are feeling so they can let it go and move on with their life. Breaking this addiction to emotional pain can often be extremely challenging, and I believe one of the great values of psychedelics is that, provided an experienced psychotherapist is working with the patient, this becomes much more feasible to accomplish due to the altered state of consciousness that is entered.
As I wrote this section, I realized I kept on being reminded of a motto a close friend lives their life by:
Accept what you cannot change; change what you cannot accept.
Why We Sleep
Many integrative physicians who have worked with chronically ill patients have observed that chronic illnesses frequently disrupt sleep cycles and that restoring healthy sleep cycles is often critical for resolving those chronic conditions. This does not just hold for physical ailments but also for trauma and a wide range of psychiatric issues.
Note: While it has some minor inaccuracies and does not include many of the approaches I believe improve sleep, Why We Sleep is by far the best book I have come across on this topic. Many of its points are summarized in this episode of the Joe Rogan show, which hosted its author.
Since insomnia is one of our population's most common medical issues, I would like to share some of the helpful approaches I've discovered. They essentially fall into three categories:
•Head Drainage Aids
The typical approach people take for help with sleep is to take a sleeping pill (e.g., Ambien or Benadryl). This is a significant issue because most medications don’t help you fall asleep; instead, they sedate you. While this seems like the same thing, it’s actually very different.
This is because, as detailed in Why We Sleep, the purpose of sleep is not just to rest the body; instead, it is to allow the brain to conduct a variety of complex functions that restore it. When you sedate the central nervous system, you also sedate its ability to restore itself. Because of this, individuals who regularly take sleeping pills demonstrate many signs of chronic sleep deprivation, including psychiatric instability.
Note: Alcohol also is a sedative that disrupts the sleep cycle.
Besides melatonin (and its analog ramelteon), I only know of three sleep aids that both effectively put you to sleep and do not interfere with your sleep cycle. Two of these are herbal extracts that have some challenges with appropriate dosing (and thus will not be discussed here). The third is a drug many of my colleagues feel should not have been essentially taken off the market—gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, also known as GHB.
As far as I know, besides ramelteon, GHB was the only pharmaceutical drug ever found to significantly increase one’s ability to get to sleep and not disrupt the sleep cycle. Before it was banned, my colleagues found it often produced remarkable benefits for chronically ill patients (who needed healthy sleep to recover but could not attain it).
GHB was allegedly banned because it was being used to sedate victims so they could be sexually assaulted—which is a real problem that has happened to friends of mine, although not with GHB specifically being used, and the evidence it was being used in that manner was highly questionable. To quote Wikipedia:
GHB became known to the general public as a date-rape drug by the late 1990s. GHB is colourless and odorless and has been described as "very easy to add to drinks".When consumed, the victim will quickly feel groggy and sleepy and may become unconscious. Upon recovery they may have an impaired ability to recall events that have occurred during the period of intoxication. In these situations evidence and the identification of the perpetrator of the rape is often difficult.
It is also difficult to establish how often GHB is used to facilitate rape as it is difficult to detect in a urine sample after a day, and many victims may only recall the rape some time after its occurrence; however, a 2006 study suggested that there was "no evidence to suggest widespread date rape drug use" in the UK, and that less than 2% of cases involved GHB, while 17% involved cocaine and a survey in the Netherlands published in 2010 found that the proportion of drug-related rape where GHB was used appeared to be greatly overestimated by the media.
Because of the (baseless) hysteria that was synchronously whipped up against GHB, many still associate the drug with date rape. Given the unique benefits of the drug, many of my colleagues feel it is incredibly unfair GHB was banned. On the other hand, I hold a more cynical view; since a lot of money is made selling unsafe and ineffective sleeping pills, an off-patent sleeping pill that actually worked could not be allowed to remain available as that would have destroyed a massive drug market. More than anything else, the GHB saga is an excellent learning lesson for understanding how pharmaceutical companies continually conduct massive PR campaigns to cement their monopolization of American healthcare.
Note: It is still possible to get GHB as sodium oxybate. Unfortunately, because of the alleged risk it will be used for sexual assault, it is quite difficult to meet the FDA’s eligibility criteria. Nonetheless, I do know of one person who successfully obtained it and was able to significantly improve both the insomnia and narcolepsy they experienced from the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition to these items, people often have sleep apnea (which can be approached in various ways, such as with a CPAP, losing weight, a dental appliance, or restoring zeta potential). Sleep apnea must be addressed, but if you have the option, avoid going the CPAP route. Additionally, I have also seen some evidence suggesting individuals with disrupted sleep cycles (which lead to their sleep not being restorative, something commonly observed in fibromyalgia), who are not suffering from sleep apnea, benefit from oxygen at night as it normalizes their ability to enter the restorative phase of sleep.
Head Drainage Aids
I view insomnia as primarily a problem of too many fluids being stuck in the head and unable to flow into the body. Similarly, many esoteric systems also believe the vital energy of the body being stuck in the head contributes to this issue (e.g., this is where the racing thoughts in your mind come from when you lie down). However, it is difficult to differentiate that obstructed energy flow from an obstructed fluid flow (e.g., many observe having intercourse at night makes it easier to sleep, and some insist this is because fluid drainage from the head is increased, while others insist the improvement is energetic in nature).
In many cases, if the drainage from the head is significantly obstructed, my preferred sleeping aids (the herbs that do not sedate you) don’t work, leading me to believe impaired drainage is a primary issue in insomnia.
There are two things that I find help with obstructed flow from the head:
•Manual therapies that decompress the head and restore its drainage.
•Improving the physiologic zeta potential.
In the case of manual therapies, the results depend on who performs them, so it’s essential to find the right person to work with (ideally, someone who has earned a reputation for solving the issue).
Note: I have found one of the most common issues people encounter in this regard is excessive tension of the sternocleidomastoid muscles (they become tight from you craning your neck forward to look at a computer screen too much). A variety of exercises to stretch and release the muscles can be found on Youtube. Treatments aimed at releasing the tender points for the muscle (e.g., a trigger point injection) can also be quite helpful.
In the case of improving zeta potential, I suspect the reason it ultimately matters is that sleep requires the glymphatic system to function. I do not believe it can without a sufficient zeta potential and or amount of liquid crystalline water present. Many approaches exist to improve zeta potential that also help with sleep (e.g., earthing, appropriate liposomal melatonin, or taking an Epsom salt bath before bed). I did my best to compile that list here.
There are also a few other approaches I have found that seem to help increase the drainage from the head. These include utilizing inclined bed therapy or moving both of your ankles in a circle in the same direction 100 times each way while lying down.
Note: A case can also be made that doing some energetic modality to drain the energy out of the head (e.g., acupuncture) can help, but I have not seen it produce results as consistently.
Our bodies were designed to read signals from the environment so they could know when to be awake and to know when to be asleep. Because our modern lifestyle scrambles all those signals, many believe those disruptions are the primary cause of insomnia in the population. Sleep hygiene in turn, attempts to restore the usual signals of sleep (plus a few other things) and thus your body's ability to sleep.
The methods I know of are as follows:
•You need to have your bedroom be a place that is psychologically associated with sleeping (this can include physical intimacy). Sleep hygienists generally advise minimizing the number of non-sleep-related things in your bedroom (e.g., a TV or desktop computer) and avoiding intellectual activity or social media in your bedroom.
•You need to have a set time to wake up and sleep each day. The body adapts to a rhythm, and if you keep changing that time, the body has much greater difficulty falling asleep.
•You need to allow your mind to wind down before sleep. If you can give yourself at least a 1-2 hour buffer between screens and other mentally taxing or emotionally stressful activities before sleep, that is ideal.
•Do not spend too long on a computer or sitting at one time. At some point, you will pass a critical threshold where it becomes quite difficult to sleep (which I acknowledge can often be challenging—this has happened to me quite a few times while working on this Substack).
•Having more physical activity during the day often makes it much easier for people to fall asleep at night. I believe this is primarily due to the increased fluid circulation in the body those activities create.
•Use good earplugs at night. I believe the silicon ones (e.g., Mack's ear plugs) are the best option, and many people report these dramatically increase their ability to sleep.
•Lastly, while this is not behavioral per say, for many individuals, it can take a lot of time to clear caffeine from their bodies, so foods like coffee should not be eaten later in the day (and with exceptionally sensitive people, other things with small amounts of caffeine like chocolate must not be eaten later in the day either).
•Your brain evolved to have the light present in the early morning (blue) wake you up, while the light present at the end of the day (red) signals you to sleep. Since we are continually exposed to blue light (most electronic screens give them off—something many believe was done intentionally to make them addictive), we have widespread issues with sleep cycle dysregulation (as blue light stops the pineal gland from secreting melatonin).
To address this problem, people suggest:
•Using blue light filters on all electronic devices. I think f.lux is the easiest option for computers, while with cell phones, a variety of apps exist (however, the default settings in the phones typically do not remove blue light from the screens). You can also put blue light-blocking material directly on screens.
•Change the lighting in your house. Most people believe halogen lamps and incandescent bulbs are the best options, while fluorescents are the worst, followed by LEDs with a high amount of blue light. Some people like to use red lights in the house at night too. Unfortunately, I could never determine the best option for this (e.g., the red-painted incandescent bulbs aren't bright enough).
My favorite lighting option I ever came across was the traditional sodium-vapor lamps (the orange street lights). Unfortunately, these are gradually being replaced with toxic LED street lamps that emit large amounts of blue light (which, amazingly, even the AMA said was a bad idea). Additionally, despite my best efforts, I have never been able to figure out how to get a sodium vapor lamp I could have inside my home (as all the bulbs are made for the much larger street lamps), so if anyone knows how to, I would very much appreciate it.
•Consider wearing blue light-blocking glasses, especially at night (these are almost everyone's favorite brand). From having experimented with these for a while, I have come to believe the pineal gland is also sensitive to light that contacts the skin directly in front of it (at the bottom middle of your forehead, right above the rim of the glasses). In turn, I find that more sensitive individuals having something that also blocks light from entering this region improves their ability to tolerate sources of blue light at night (e.g., screens).
Note: I have also seen evidence that suggests any part of your body is sensitive to light exposure, which is why all light exposure while sleeping sometimes needs to be avoided.
•Do everything you can to reduce the light in your room (e.g., no electronics that blink) and, if possible lightproof everything (e.g., use effective blackout curtains that can entirely block the light in each room). I have incredible difficulty sleeping in poorly light-proofed rooms, which is one of the primary reasons I do not travel as much now.
•Many people have found that having a hot bath or shower before sleep helps them fall asleep. I have long thought this is due to the heat pulling blood out of your head (and I still believe that is partly the explanation). Matthew Walker has argued that this tiredness occurs because after you exit the bath or shower, heat is rapidly pulled out of your body, which cools you.
•It becomes cooler at night, so the body is wired to take coldness in the environment (including the cooling which follows a brief shower) as a signal to sleep. I think this point is significant because many people cannot sleep in rooms that are too hot, but simultaneously (if they are sensitive to positive ions) have difficulty sleeping in rooms with active ACs. For the most part, I believe that sleeping in cooler temperatures is ideal (interestingly, the brain also drops in temperature as you sleep), and as possible, I would advise aiming to have a cooler bedroom.
Note: a friend told me over the cold winter, he decided to use no electricity or gas heating and only warmed his house with a fireplace (which he would sometimes have to wake up in the middle of the night to rebuild, so he didn't freeze). Although this seems a bit insane, that winter ended up being one of the most restorative periods of his life, which I believe helps to reflect just how much modern technology disrupts the rhythms we evolved to sustain ourselves with.
Although this does not exist within the conventional sleep hygiene literature, I have found that reducing EMFs in your sleeping space can be immensely beneficial for sleep. At this point, I have a few theories to explain why it works, none of which I am confident in (e.g., EMFs decrease zeta potential, EMFs decrease liquid crystalline water, EMFs can heat the brain, EMFs interfere with the electric field transmission of memories to the hippocampus).
Some of the best strategies I can advise are:
•Do not live near a source of high EMFs (e.g., a cell tower or lots of WiFi routers).
•Turn off your WiFi at night (or get rid of it entirely).
•Flip your circuit breaker at night.
•Put your phone on airplane mode in the bedroom (this is also critical for sleep hygiene).
•Sleep under an effective EMF shielding canopy for your bedroom (the cheaper ones don't work as well).
•Consider painting your room with EMF shielding paint (only do this if it is a serious concern for you).
•Get an EMF meter (the ones that detect WiFi and Cell Phone radiation are more expensive than the generic ones) to see if you can identify any major EMF sources.
Each of these can help, and the benefits vs. hassle of each is something each person must determine for themselves (e.g., one person I knew noticed cutting wifi at night made them dream again, and since they wanted to dream they started always doing that).
Note: Many, but not all, of the methods for improving sleep hygiene are also extensively detailed within Why We Sleep.
The phase of sleep we are the most familiar with is known as rapid eye movement sleep. This is the phase of sleep where we dream.
One of the things that is rarely appreciated about REM sleep (I did not know it until I learned it from Matthew Walker) is how it “resolves” trauma. Essentially, sleep removes the traumatic attachment to memory so that remembering an event no longer triggers a traumatic response within the body—something, as noted earlier in this article, many people truly need.
If you think back to it, I am sure you can think of numerous instances where you felt awful about something, went to sleep (or maybe even couldn’t bear the emotion anymore and just wanted to fall asleep), and then in the morning you woke up, and it was all gone. That is REM sleep in action (although a case can also be made in Chinese medicine is that an energetic function of the liver is to detoxify emotions).
In turn, as REM sleep becomes disrupted (e.g., by all the factors described throughout this article), individuals become less able to resolve their traumatic experiences. Furthermore, in cases of severe PTSD, when the REM process attempts to resolve the traumatic experience, instead of settling it, the individual will simply experience nightmares from it—which fortunately can be treated with drugs that block the effects of adrenaline.
One of the most interesting approaches that has been developed to treat traumatic memories came out of a discovery that eye movements decreased the negative emotions associate with distressing memories. This gave birth to a system that somewhat replicates how REM sleep resolves the traumatic attachment to a memory by having the patient think about the memory and then be guided through rapid eye movements to desensitize the patient to the impact of that memory.
The surprising thing about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is that while not 100% effective, it works, insurance covers it, and many places offer it. Given how it is to find treatments like this within the conventional medical system, EMDR is something I wish more people knew about.
Note: there are also other variants of EMDR that some people find more effective (e.g., ones that utilize muscle testing or colored glasses).
My Preferred Methods for Treating Trauma
Over the years, I have tried out more methods than I can count for addressing trauma, and in almost all cases, if you view it as something trapped within the body that needs to be released, you typically get the best results—however even with that, every approach is inconsistent and only works some of the time. Furthermore, if possible, I believe exercises you can give the patient to do on their own are invaluable (e.g., breathing into a part of their body the trauma disconnected them from—disassociation, already a significant issue in our society, almost always occurs to a significant degree following trauma).
In my experience, I find that while being mindful to relax into and feel certain emotions can help with general emotional issues, with trauma that does not suffice. Instead, I find that when the individual becomes aware of some aspect of the trauma, in conjunction with feeling the emotion and to the extent they can relaxing into it, some time of moving meditation practice needs to occur concurrently to help the trauma become dislodged.
Presumably because they are easier to market, far more passive (where a therapist performs the treatment on you) methods than active methods (where one deals with their trauma themselves) exist. All of the methods out there that work well enough to have a somewhat large following I have observed tend attempt to engage with some degree of an energetic component to the trauma or trapped emotion. For example, the well known Emotional Freedom Technique, is a method where one thinks about the emotion and then taps on the associated acupuncture meridian to release the trapped emotion from it.
At this point, I feel the science of releasing trauma from the body is still relatively new, and likely in a decade or two, we will have a much better understanding of the best approaches. Generally speaking, working with trauma is challenging (as there are numerous subtle things you must do correctly), and many of the approaches detailed here and in the previous article can sometimes be helpful.
In my own experience, effectively addressing trapped emotions and trauma is a skill that takes a lot of work to refine (it took me years of working at it before I felt I could help people, and now I often do but also frequently run into situations where I cannot help the person). For this reason, often the most helpful tool you can have is locating a therapist who you believe can effectively address these issues for yourself or your patients.
In the final part of this article, I will discuss the remarkable resource I gained access to solve this problem, and I would also like to request that you share what approaches have helped you to address your problems. Due to the circumstances around my own resource, I was explicitly requested for my discussion of them to go behind a paywall.
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