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What Are PTSD Nightmares?

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  • Written By: A. Gamm
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) typically happens after a violent event where a person has no control over the experiences in which he or she was directly involved with the violence or witnessed the violence happening to others. Research indicates that approximately 71 percent to 96 percent of people with PTSD have nightmares, and sufferers who also have other issues like panic disorders are more likely to have these traumatic dreams. The nightmares are typically reoccurring with little to no alterations in their content. Usually, these dreams may directly reenact the traumatic event or focus on a few central points about the event. Normal treatment for PTSD nightmares usually involves treating the other PTSD symptoms through therapy or medication.

In most cases, the PTSD nightmares reoccur each night the sufferer sleeps and may even occur as a flashback during the day. As of 2011, studies indicate that the nightmares may happen during any stage of the sleep cycle and that the typical sign a nightmare is occurring is frequent body movement. It is normal for the sufferer to be unable to continue to sleep after the nightmare comes back.

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Most PTSD nightmares are exact reenactments of the traumatic event. In some cases, only certain elements of the event are featured in the dream. For example, women with PTSD who have been raped may not dream about being raped, but about being physically controlled by a man in a violent manner. In this case, although the exact event is not a part of the nightmare, the same dream is still repeated. Many times, the nightmare plays like a narrative and little to no symbolism is involved.

According to studies, the thoughts and emotions that the nightmares bring are usually the same as those experienced during the traumatic event. This reliving of emotions is what normally creates issues related to PTSD nightmares, such as insomnia. As such, treating the nightmares typically involves treating the other symptoms of PTSD as well.

As of 2011, there are several methods for treating PTSD and related nightmares. Some mental health professionals recommend more traditional routes of therapy and certain medications to handle PTSD symptoms like insomnia and anxiety. Other professionals recommend treating PTSD nightmares with slightly indirect drug assistance, such as taking medications to lower blood pressure or breathing issues to lessen the nightmares. It is typically recommended to discuss treatment options with a medical professional before deciding on a course of action.

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