Nightmares and PTSD.
You had that dream again.
All of a sudden you wake up with a start, dripping with sweat. For an instant, you’re not sure if you are still in the nightmare or if you are in the real world.
Eventually, things start to settle, your breathing slows, and you realize that you are in your bedroom. Yet, it felt like what you were dreaming was so real.
Nightmares due to PTSD are a terrible reminder of past trauma and can cause all kinds of sleep issues.
However, there are solutions for coping with these dreadful dreams so that sleep doesn’t have to be torture.
1. Practice Positive Sleep Hygiene to Prepare Your Bedroom
First, practicing positive sleep hygiene is especially important for preparing where you sleep—the bedroom. Granted, you can’t turn your bedroom into an immersion chamber (although that would be pretty neat). However, you can do your best to lay the groundwork for good sleep and preventing nightmares associated with PTSD.
- Turn all the lights off at night
- Don’t have a TV in your bedroom and definitely don’t fall asleep while watching TV
- Decorate your room with warm and soothing colors
- Wash your sheets and bedding regularly
- If you struggle with snoring, use a special pillow to cradle your head and neck
- Do not eat food or drink beverages other than water in your room
In other words, your room should be a sleep sanctuary where you can feel relaxed and fall asleep easily.
2. Take Time to Transition During the Last Hour Before Bedtime
The hour before bed is a critical time to unwind and get in the right mindset for sleep. It should be a time when you are transitioning from your evening activity to bedtime.
Some ideas to make this transition go smoothly include:
- Shutting off the cell phone and especially social media apps
- Reading a book, newspaper, or magazine
- Drinking a non-caffeinated tea
If you are having nightmares due to PTSD, then this transition time is even more important. It helps with preparing your mind for bed and even for dreaming. Being stressed and anxious before bed will certainly affect your mind and your dreams negatively.
3. Have Strategies Ready for When a Nightmare Wakes You Up
What can you do if you have a nightmare and suddenly wake up? There are several things you can try.
- Remind yourself that you are safe and OK
- Say to yourself, “It’s just a dream”
- Get up and move around in your home to burn off excessive energy
- Drink some water
- Write down your thoughts in a journal
- Read a passage that is reassuring and comforting (this could be from a spiritual text or even a favorite story)
- If you sleep with a bed partner, talk to them about what happened
Consider having more than one strategy ready for when your PTSD causes you nightmares that regularly interrupt your sleep.
4. Avoid Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drugs
Certainly, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use can easily exacerbate nightmares connected to PTSD.
While drinking before bedtime may cause you to fall asleep, you don’t sleep as soundly and deeply. Tobacco products contain nicotine, which is a stimulant. Thus, when you use tobacco products, such as cigarettes, your body responds by raising your heart rate. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
Finally, it just makes sense that either drug misuse or abuse does not help when it comes to sleep issues. Disrupted sleep can lead to nightmares. Plus, you have a more diminished capacity for coping with past trauma and those nightmares.
5. Get Professional Help For Nightmares and Ptsd
Have you been experiencing nightmares due to your PTSD for a while now? Do they interfere with your quality of life? Then it might be time to get professional help for your trauma.
One way that treatment can help is through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR. Moreover, it can be comforting just to talk to someone who won’t judge you and is willing to listen. There are many benefits of having a skilled and experienced trauma therapist at your side.
Nightmares as a result of PTSD are a difficult combination to cope with. Typically, the nightmares are reminders of past trauma and can create sleep issues that interfere with your everyday life. However, you can learn to cope by practicing the five solutions noted above, as well as getting help through trauma treatment. Please, contact me if you would like to know more.