Sleep—it’s the fuel for our brains. In our society, many people view sleep as a waste of time or something that’s a tedious task, but that’s incredibly incorrect. During sleep, we’re able to process intense emotions, figure out issues, review new information, and give our brains time to reboot. Recently, a study highlighted the possible importance of sleep for working through traumatic experiences. As a program that offers therapy for trauma in teens, we understand the critical role sleep plays in helping a teen work through challenges.
Teens and Trauma
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: two-thirds of children have reported experiencing a traumatic event before the age of sixteen. This could include: psychological or physical abuse, community or school violence, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, natural disasters, a sudden loss of a loved one, military family-related stressors such as deployment or injury, neglect, and serious accidents or life-threatening illnesses. Traumatic stress may present differently in children than adults, and can even vary from young children to older children. Middle and high school students experiencing traumatic stress may exhibit signs such as:
- Feel depressed or alone
- Develop eating disorders or self-harming behaviors
- Begin abusing alcohol or drugs
- Become involved in risky sexual behavior
Teens who are experiencing symptoms from traumatic stress may also face additional challenges because they are in a unique stage of development. As their brains continue to grow and their prefrontal cortex develops, they may not yet have the ability to process their trauma in a healthy way. This is why creating healthy habits around things like eating, exercise, and sleep are an important part of helping their brain continue to develop during the teen years.
The Power of Sleep
Research has shown that, in general, sleep helps us make sense of emotions. Sleep plays a key role in encoding information based on experiences from the day, making sleep critical for preserving memories. And emotional memories are unique because of the way they activate the amygdala, the brain’s emotional core. We already know that with a lack of sleep, humans tend to struggle to do the simplest of tasks and can even become a risk to ourselves. Those hours spent with our eyes closed aren’t just used for rest, they’re used to refresh our entire bodies–and they could actually be essential for processing trauma as well.
In a new study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, researchers looked into whether catching some shuteye within the first 24 hours after a traumatic experience helped or not. To do this, they showed individuals a very traumatic video and sought to see whether sleep impacted the influence of the video or not. The first author of the study, Birgit Kleim, explained their results:
“Our results reveal that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake. This supports the assumption that sleep may have a protective effect in the aftermath of traumatic experiences.”
The researchers believe this is because sleep can help separate the fear associated with the experience from the memory, making it easier to process. They also think sleep provides context and understanding on a level we don’t fully understand yet. Now, one night of rest after a traumatic experience isn’t going to make it go away, but it seems like it’s definitely an early prevention technique that needs to be looked into.
A 2018 study with children 8-11 found that children who slept after being shown negative pictures showed a smaller emotional response in late positive potential (LPP). LPP fires up when the brain is processing emotion, and often large spikes occur when those emotions are negative. This research suggests that sleep helps with both crystallizing emotional information – and with controlling how it makes us feel. And this effect works quickly.
Nap or a Full Night’s Sleep?
Rapid eye movement is usually the sleep we fall into during a full night’s rest sleep. REM is associated with emotional memories, and more REM sleep makes people better at assessing others’ emotional intentions and recalling emotional stories. One theory relates to the absence of the stress hormone noradrenaline during REM sleep. Temporarily relieved of this hormone, the brain may use the time to process memories without the stress.
Slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the first phase of sleep that consolidates memories and is especially good for processing neutral memories. Naps mostly consist of non-REM sleep. A 2018 paper appears to be the first to show that naps, and not just overnight sleep, contribute to emotional memory processing in children. Without a nap, children showed a bias toward emotional faces. With a nap, they responded similarly to neutral stimuli as they did to emotional stimuli. While older adults will benefit more from REM sleep, younger adults and children may benefit from both REM and SWS.
Residential Treatment for Trauma
Dealing with trauma can be challenging and even isolating for teens. They may feel that their parents do not understand their struggles and that their friends could never relate or will think they’re “weird” or “damaged” if they talk to them about the trauma symptoms they’re experiencing. Because of this, many teens with trauma find themselves withdrawing from support systems instead of reaching out for help. This is where a residential treatment center that specializes in trauma can be incredibly beneficial for teens. As a program that offers therapy for trauma in teens, we strive to promote healthy living in our students. This includes a good 8 hours of sleep a night because we understand the importance of rest for the brain and the therapeutic process.
At Solstice East, the term “trauma” is frequently used to describe a broad spectrum of personal challenges. As one of the top trauma treatment centers, cutting-edge neurological research has helped us to better understand the impact of trauma on a developing brain and has driven a greater understanding of the most effective methods that can be implemented in its treatment. We believe that a holistic approach is an effective way to help young women truly heal from trauma. Instead of focusing on one specific “problem” area or issue, we treat the entire person (mind, body, and spirit). It is our belief that cutting-edge and evidence-based therapeutic approaches such as EMDR, neurofeedback, somatic experiencing, Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and gender-specific addictions treatment are essential to your daughter’s healing process.
Cutting-edge neuroscientific research has identified regulation as the key element found in healthy, healing relationships. When regulated, our neurological functions can be centralized in the pre-frontal cortex– the part of the brain involved in rational decision-making. When dysregulated, our neurological functions are more likely found in the limbic system, the midbrain, or even all the way back in the brain stem.
When stuck in these less rational parts of the brain we tend to display poor emotional boundaries, higher levels of emotional reactivity, and are unable to attune to our own needs—let alone the needs of others. Moments of relational interaction that lack attunement are much more likely to cause damage in a relationship. We work on this through our relationship therapy tactics. Our programming is designed around a relationship-based approach to healing from trauma. While students are attending Solstice East they will build relationships with peers and staff members.We have found that these relationships are essential to helping your daughter heal from her trauma and build a strong and empowered identity.
At Solstice East, we help our students and families learn to regulate their emotions through the modalities of mindfulness, relationship therapy, equine-assisted psychotherapy, adventure therapies, and art-based therapies. We emphasize this teaching by training every member of our staff on how to self-regulate, and how to help a teenager develop her own self-regulation skills. We provide our team with opportunities to implement regulation skills in real-life settings to increase their ability to provide attunement, safety, and predictability while in-relationship with your daughter.
Solstice East offers therapy for trauma in teens
Success in working with young women requires specific and unique areas of emphasis and sensitivity to how they respond to various approaches to change. As one of the best residential treatment centers, we have created a culture and approach specifically developed to fit the distinctive needs of teenage girls. Whether it is our specifically designed equine approach and addictions programs, or the clinical specialization and collaboration of our therapists, Solstice East is uniquely qualified to address the complex needs of girls in need of healing and growth.
Solstice East is an all-girls residential treatment center that offers therapy for trauma in teens, ages 14 to 18. Our girls often grapple with depression, PTSD, low self-esteem, anxiety, trauma, ADHD, and other emotional or behavioral problems when they come to us. In our therapy for trauma in teens, we strive to help students develop healthy habits and lead themselves back onto a path of success and happiness.
For more information about how our therapy for trauma in teens at Solstice East can help your daughter, please contact us at 828-484-9946.