Most people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) have nightmares. Nightmares are a very common symptom of PTSD. Research shows that as many as 95% of people with PTSD experience them.
Nightmares can be extremely vivid and realistic. They can be so realistic that you may wake up thinking that the event is happening again right now. Or, you may have a dream about an event that is different from what happened.
Characteristics of nightmares associated with PTSD include:
- fear or terror
- What are nightmares?
- A nightmare is a frightening dream that can cause intense fear, terror, or panic. People who have nightmares may wake up feeling scared or upset. Some may feel physically ill or sweat, have a rapid heartbeat, or feel like they are choking.
Nightmares differ from night terrors, which are unpleasant but typically happen earlier in the night and may cause people to scream or thrash around in their sleep. People who have night terrors may not remember their dreams.
While occasional nightmares are normal, frequent nightmares can be a sign of an underlying issue, such as sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression.
What causes nightmares?
Most nightmares are caused by stress. Stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, job loss, illness, or divorce can cause nightmares. A traumatic event such as a car accident, war, or natural disaster can also cause nightmares. Some medications, such as certain antidepressants and blood pressure medications, can cause nightmares. If you have sleep apnea, you may experience nightmares due to interrupted breathing during sleep.
How to stop nightmares
Nightmares can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have PTSD, you may have intense or vivid nightmares. You may also have trouble sleeping and feel anxious or scared when you try to sleep.
Nightmares are different from night terrors, which can also be a symptom of PTSD. Night terrors usually happen in the first few hours of sleep and are more common in children than adults. People with night terrors may scream, thrash around, or act out violent scenes in their sleep. They usually don’t remember the night terror the next morning.
If you have PTSD, some treatments can help.
It is important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ending nightmares related to PTSD. However, the following tips may help manage these disturbing dreams:
- Talk to your therapist or doctor about your nightmares. They can help you understand what might be causing them and find ways to address the underlying issues.
- Keep a dream journal. Writing down your nightmares can help you process them and may provide clues about what is triggering them.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. These can help reduce stress and promote better sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can make nightmares worse.
- Create a safe space in your home where you can go if you feel overwhelmed by a nightmare. This could be a quiet room with calming colors and soothing music.
- Seek professional help if your nightmares are severely impacting your quality of life or causing distress. Therapists treating PTSD can provide guidance and support in addressing these tough dreams.