What Causes Ptsd Nightmares
Nightmares that result from PTSD are different than typical nightmares. This is because PTSD symptoms all occur as a result of a specific traumatic event in a persons life. While nightmares that arent related to PTSD can be about anything, PTSD nightmares almost always include some aspect of the specific traumatic event that caused the disorder to develop.
Because I experienced multiple traumatic events over the course of my childhood, my PTSD nightmares are a little more complex. Even so, the things I dream about night after night all relate to my past in some way.
Stress is also a common cause of nightmares. Its normal to have bad dreams when you have a big exam or important project looming at school or work. Because stress is also a core symptom of PTSD, its natural that people with PTSD would experience more nightmares than those without.
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Tip : Reach Out To Others For Support
PTSD can make you feel disconnected from others. You may be tempted to withdraw from social activities and your loved ones. But its important to stay connected to life and the people who care about you. You dont have to talk about the trauma if you dont want to, but the caring support and companionship of others is vital to your recovery. Reach out to someone you can connect with for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen when you want to talk without judging, criticizing, or continually getting distracted. That person may be your significant other, a family member, a friend, or a professional therapist. Or you could try:
Volunteering your time or reaching out to a friend in need. This is not only a great way to connect to others, but can also help you reclaim your sense of control.
Joining a PTSD support group. This can help you feel less isolated and alone and also provide invaluable information on how to cope with symptoms and work towards recovery.
Accept That Sleeping Problems Are A Normal Part Of Ptsd
If you have suffered chronic or severe trauma, possibly involving other problems such as chronic pain, your sleep is bound to be affected because your nervous system is in a constant state of stress. You may find that your sleep routine is erratic, punctuated by nightmares and night-waking and non-restful sleep. This is normal its just your nervous system doing what it is designed to do stay alert and protect you. Dont get upset with yourself for not being able to sleep normally. Dont force yourself to sleep normally.
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Research Into The Effectiveness Of Rescripting Dreams Suggests That Posttraumatic Nightmares Are Actually A Range Of Different Phenomena Opening Up The Possibility Of Targeted Treatments
A common symptom of posttraumatic stress is having nightmares, where a person re-experiences their traumatic experience in some way while they sleep.
But, what we are starting to suspect is that not all posttraumatic stress disorder nightmares are the same, and that has important implications for how we go about treating them.
One promising and relatively simple psychological intervention for PTSD nightmares has been to have patients consciously rescript their nightmare in a way that increases their sense of mastery or control, and steers the storyline in a different direction before it reaches the most distressing part.
We call it imagery rehearsal therapy.
But, after encouraging initial studies on the effectiveness of imagery rehearsal in PTSD, larger and more rigorous studies are yielding more unclear treatment outcomes.
So why would it work for some people and not others?
Recent polysomnography research into posttraumatic nightmares is suggesting that these dreams differ from normal ones in several ways and may actually be a range of phenomena, rather than a single one.
Imagery rehearsal therapy was first introduced by British psychiatrist Isaac Marks 40 years ago, originally as an intervention to help children to overcome repetitive bad dreams.
Since then, research into the use of imagery rehearsal in the treatment of posttraumatic nightmares in adults with PTSD has grown.
So where does this leave us?
Sleep Problems And Ptsd
Almost everyone who has PTSD also has trouble sleeping. Both insomnia and nightmares are PTSD symptoms. Learn about treatments that can help if you have PTSD and sleep problems.
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Finding A Therapist For Ptsd
When looking for a therapist, seek out mental health professionals who specialize in the treatment of trauma and PTSD. You can ask your doctor or other trauma survivors for a referral, call a local mental health clinic, psychiatric hospital, or counseling center.
Beyond credentials and experience, its important to find a PTSD therapist who makes you feel comfortable and safe. Trust your gut if a therapist doesnt feel right, look for someone else. For therapy to work, you need to feel comfortable and understood.
Ptsd Sleep Activities: To Do
4. Practice calming and breathing exercises:
Having PTSD can affect your sleep, as you already know. However, it doesnt have to. Believe it or not, there are quick grounding practices that provide a quick sense of calmness. For example, one of my favorites that works every time is placing an ice pack on the back of your neck while you lay down. Doing so brings all of your excessive random thoughts to a halt and your focus on the present moment.
Not only does the ice pack calm you down, it eliminates muscle spasms and the tense tightening of muscles in your neck and shoulder.
5. Read a book :
Purchase a couple of new books, paperback books, that you can read before you go to bed. I would suggest any topic other than horror, mystery, suspense, or anything including anxiety provoking content. Instead, choose books that will help your PTSD and influence deep sleep.
I am not suggesting reading the latest operators manual on wind turbines. Books that I find to be interesting to read but non-stimulating are, The 4:8 Principal which will retrain your thought process to produce positive thinking. Another excellent option is PTSD Marriage Guide: Marriage, Children, and PTSD. What Now?.
6. Take a hot relaxing bath or shower:
Theres something about taking a hot shower or bath before bed that triggers your brain to prepare for relaxing. Feeling the hot water also slows your breathing down and is very grounding.
7. Meditate or Praying:
Start Writing Down Your Dreams
If you feel that you are not in control or cannot understand your dreams, you are bound to fall deeper into the fear and pain that the nightmares cause. Keep a dream journal to record symbols, reoccurring people or actions, and other information that you recall when you wake up. Then, work with your therapist to identify where these symbols arise from and how you can resolve them.
Ptsd Nightmares And What To Do About Them
Nightmares that relive the trauma are fairly common in PTSD. In fact, one study of veterans showed 88% were experiencing nightmares compared to 5% of the general population. The likelihood of having nightmares is increased if the person also is experiencing depression or anxiety. Although it is thought by many that nightmares are a way the brain processes the traumatic event, it is known that nightmares can increase other PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks, and can accelerate the progression of PTSD. They also by their nature negatively affect the quality of sleep, and therefore, the overall quality of life.
Researchers have shown 2 things that might increase nightmares in people with PTSD. These are rumination and catastrophizing- both of which are common symptoms of PTSD along with hypervigilance. Rumination is the practice of going over and over the traumatic event in your head and having difficulty not thinking about it constantly. Catastrophizing, on the other hand, is the practice of thinking things through and imagining the worst possible outcome. Several personality traits are related to PTSD nightmares including distrustfulness, alienation, and emotional estrangement- all of which are common symptoms of PTSD.
So, what can be done?
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How Do Sleep Issues Affect Ptsd Symptoms
Among people who experience a traumatic event, those who suffer significant sleep problems appear to be more likely to develop PTSD in the future. In fact, one of the earliest signs of PTSD is sleep disturbance, which often encompasses nightmares, insomnia, and fragmented rapid eye movement sleep.
Interestingly, sleep problems that precede the traumatic event may also play a role. One study found that people reporting nightmares before going to war were more likely to develop PTSD after coming back.
Sleep problems in PTSD interfere with the brains ability to process memories and emotions, slowing down the recovery process after a traumatic event. Moreover, many people with PTSD use alcohol or other substances to try to sleep better. Far from helping, these counterproductive coping mechanisms actually worsen sleep and can aggravate PTSD symptoms as well.
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Imagine The Worst Nightmare Youve Ever Had
Can you remember it? Can you remember how it made you feel your thoughts when you woke up? Probably a mixture of lingering fear your grogginess may have made your imagination wild the shadows in your room may have borne a vague threat. But you probably also felt relief when you woke up. You were glad that the dream was over, and as the sleepiness wore off, you were probably happy to be awake again.
I pulled that description from my memory. From the time before I was traumatized. I remember what nightmares were like before I developed PTSD. They werent fun I have a vivid imagination and it can definitely run wild with a fearful scenario, but back then, before PTSD, the word nightmare was synonymous with bad dream.
PTSD nightmares are far worse than bad dreams. If dreaming takes us to an alternate dimension, then PTSD turns the brains of trauma survivors into gateways to Hell.
The biggest difference between a trauma nightmare and a normal nightmare is that trauma nightmares feel real.
I mean really real.
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You Need Help Coping With The Effects Of Your Trauma
Essentially, your nightmares mean that your brain and body both 1) re-live your past trauma repeatedly and 2) retain that trauma internally, stuck and unprocessed.
But your nightmares mean something more as well. Your complex PTSD nightmares are signals that you need help.
They are indicating to you that the past is still too much of your present. A frightening, disruptive, exhausting part, that you haven’t been able to manage on your own.
Thats okay. Theres no shame in admitting that the nightmares are happening and you dont yet know how to stop them. The point is that you can use your dreams as information about what steps to take next.
Complex PTSD nightmares are not rare. In fact, research over the past decade indicates that upwards of 80 percent of C-PTSD sufferers experience them. Reach out for help. Dont let unwanted memories and a lack of sleep isolate you or take a larger toll on your well-being. Im here to help you put the past to bed so that you can move forward, refreshed and free.
If you would like some extra support overcoming PTSD nightmares please contact me below for a free 30 minute consultation. I am a compassionate therapist who can help you find calm and rest.
Treating Ptsd Nightmares And Flashbacks
Treating the nightmares and flashbacks of PTSD is possible, but it can be a slow process . Therapy can help someone end these intrusion symptoms that negatively affect his/her quality of life.
Ideally, treating nightmares and flashbacks is a component of overall PTSD treatment. Some specific treatment approaches for PTSD nightmares and flashbacks include:
- Image Rehearsal Therapy for nightmares involves, during the day, changing the ending of the nightmare and replaying this over and over so that eventually the new dream will replace the PTSD nightmare
- The PTSD medication, Prazosin, for nightmares
- Exposure to traumatic imagery to desensitize ones reaction to flashbacks
- Stress reduction and relaxation techniques
- Orientation techniques to ground someone in the now world during a flashback or after a nightmare
PTSD nightmares and flashbacks take over someones body and emotions and plant him/her in the middle of the trauma world. Understanding PTSD nightmares and flashbacks can help someone stay rooted in the now world.
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Getting Professional Help For Ptsd
If you suspect that you or a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder, its important to seek help right away. The sooner PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome. If youre reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.
Its only natural to want to avoid painful memories and feelings. But if you try to numb yourself and push your memories away, PTSD will only get worse. You cant escape your emotions completelythey emerge under stress or whenever you let down your guardand trying to do so is exhausting. The avoidance will ultimately harm your relationships, your ability to function, and the quality of your life.
Why you should seek help for PTSD
Early treatment is better. Symptoms of PTSD may get worse. Dealing with them now might help stop them from getting worse in the future. Finding out more about what treatments work, where to look for help, and what kind of questions to ask can make it easier to get help and lead to better outcomes.
PTSD symptoms can change family life. PTSD symptoms can get in the way of your family life. You may find that you pull away from loved ones, are not able to get along with people, or that you are angry or even violent. Getting help for your PTSD can help improve your family life.
Treatments For Nightmares In Adults
Fortunately, there are steps you and your doctor can take to lessen the frequency of your nightmares and the effect they are having on your life. First, if your nightmares are the result of a particular medication, you may be able to change your dosage or prescription to eliminate this unwanted side effect.
For people whose nightmares are caused by conditions such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, treating the underlying disorder may help alleviate symptoms.
If your nightmares arenât illness- or medication-related, donât despair. Behavioral changes have proven effective for 70% of adults who suffer from nightmares, including those caused by anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Imagery rehearsal treatment is a promising cognitive behavioral therapy for recurrent nightmares and nightmares caused by PTSD. The technique helps chronic sufferers change their nightmares by rehearsing how they would like them to transpire. In some cases, medications may be used in conjunction with therapy to treat PTSD-related nightmares, though their efficacy has not been demonstrated as clearly as that of imagery rehearsal treatment.
There are a number of other steps you can take on your own that may help reduce your nightmare frequency. Keeping a regular wake-sleep schedule is important. So is engaging in regular exercise, which will help alleviate nightmare-causing anxiety and stress. You may find that yoga and meditation are also helpful.
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What Is The Best Treatment For Sleep Problems
The best treatment for insomnia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I. This talk therapy is recommended over medication because it is more effectiveCBT-I has been shown to work in multiple research studiesand has fewer side effects than medication. CBT-I improves sleep in 7 out of 10 people who complete it. Research also shows that CBT-I reduces how many nightmares people have and the distress related to upsetting dreams.
Summing Up: Ptsd Nightmares
PTSD nightmares can be scary, but they dont have to be a regular, nightly feature. With many forms of therapy available, it is possible to welcome sleep instead of avoiding it. Much of the research done on nightmares is directly related to PTSD and the results show much promise.
Current therapies and medications to keep in mind when considering treatment for PTSD include:
- Prazosin: A medication that decreases CNS output
- Image Rehearsal Therapy: A form of therapy that rewrites the original story of trauma to include a positive ending
- EMDR Therapy: A form of therapy that helps to lessen arousal associated with traumatic memories
If you or someone you know struggles with PTSD nightmares and uses alcohol or other substances to cope, know you are not alone. Contact The Recovery Village today to speak to a representative and discuss a treatment plan appropriate for you.
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Take A Long Hard Look At Your Bedroom
When you think about it, you really spend a lot of time in your bedroom. Thus, if your goal is to get a good nights sleep, then your bedroom needs to support that objective. This means keeping or adding things that will promote sleep and getting rid of the things that dont.
- Ensure that your bed is comfortable and can support your body
- Change the sheets and pillowcases frequently
- Keep your room simple, without a lot of excessive furniture
- Paint the walls a soothing color, such as blue or green
- Hang artwork or pictures that are positive, warm, and comforting
- Sleep in loose and comfortable clothing
- Avoid having lots of electronic devices in your room, such as a TV
If your bedroom is designed to support sleep, then that puts you one step closer to getting a good nights rest and avoiding PTSD-generated nightmares.