PTSD and Nightmares: How to Make Sense of the Connection

Posted by Counseling Wise on March 18, 2019

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often triggered by a specific event. Yet, it doesn’t mean that once the event is over the symptoms of PTSD subside.

For many people, symptoms keep occurring even years later. Those symptoms can even get worse over time.

A common and highly troubling symptom associated with PTSD is sleep problems. The effects of PTSD can often create issues such as insomnia, flashbacks, or nightmares.

There are plenty of stereotypes linking PTSD and nightmares that you might see on movies, TV, or in books. Still, it’s important to understand the real connection, and what someone suffering from PTSD can do to find help.

What Are Common Symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms can be categorized into three different areas:

·         Re-experiencing symptoms

·         Avoidance symptoms

·         Hyperarousal symptoms

Insomnia is considered a hyperarousal symptom. Nightmares, flashbacks, dreams, and recollections are considered re-experiencing symptoms.

Additionally, there are two types of PTSD, depending on how long you experience symptoms. If you continue to experience them after three months, you may have chronic PTSD, which can be harder to overcome.

Sleep issues are one of the biggest complaints from people who deal with PTSD. Furthermore, studies have shown that up to 70% of people who struggle with trauma have trouble sleeping or deal with nightmares.

Insomnia from PTSD becomes a problem when you’re losing sleep from fear or stress. Many people worry about what could happen during the night. Others feel as though they need to be on high alert 24/7, allowing no room for true rest.

This negative pattern can lead to other mental health conditions as well. 

Unsurprisingly, when you finally are able to fall asleep, you may be so on-edge that it triggers even more nightmares or vivid flashbacks.

Why Does PTSD Cause Nightmares?

If you have re-experiencing symptoms of your PTSD, they can manifest at almost any time. You might see images or have flashbacks of the trauma during the day.

At night, these can come in the form of nightmares, where you may relive the traumatic event.

Unfortunately, these nightmares are often very vivid. They can cause you to have a real fear, and physical reactions such as waking up sweating, or with a rapidly beating heart.

Nightmares may even cause you to move during your sleep to the point where you wake yourself up. Some can be so vivid that it’s difficult to fully transition from your sleep state to an awakened state right away.

This can lead to things like hallucinations during that transition. Which is dangerous for the person experiencing it, or anyone who may be near them.

Managing PTSD Symptoms

PTSD can gradually intensify over time if left untreated. You could be putting yourself at risk for things like depression and anxiety.

You might even end up hurting yourself or someone you love if you’re experiencing regular flashbacks and nightmares that seem real.

Thankfully, there are several ways to treat PTSD so you can take control of your life once again.

Sometimes, certain medications can be effective in managing the more severe symptoms. Therapy is also very effective to identify the trauma you’ve been through (and your triggers). Plus, it also helps you to learn different ways to get through it.

You don’t have to live with the negative impact of trauma forever. We can partner together to transform your life. 

For more information about PTSD treatment, please take a look at my PTSD Counseling page.

I am here to partner with you to transform your life. If you are ready to transform your life, please contact me to set up an appointment or for a free 30 – minute phone consultation.

About the Therapist

Gay A. Hunter, M.Div., LPC-S, is a licensed professional counselor who graduated from Brite Divinity School at TCU. She is committed to partner with you to transform your life. She owns a private practice in Fort Worth, TX. She specializes in online therapy. She is trained in Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. To find out more about Gay click here


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