Nightmares May Continue After a Trauma

Reviewed Mar 13, 2019

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Summary

  • Normal response to trauma
  • Rethink nightmare content upon wakening
  • Practice good sleep habits

After a trauma, people’s sleep may be disturbed by bad dreams. If nightmares bother you after a traumatic event, try these tips. 

Take control of your dreams

Perhaps you’ve experienced lucid dreaming. While dreaming, not only are you aware that you are in a dream, but you also change the scene as the dream unfolds. If nightmares haunt you after some horrible circumstance, try these tips:

  • As you fall asleep, repeat in your mind, “I will take charge of my dreams tonight.”
  • If a bad dream wakes you up, imagine a new plot for it that doesn’t upset you. 
  • Write down the happier version of the dream. Read it close to bedtime. 
  • Accept that nightmares are normal for a while after a trauma. 

Improve these three things

Even if you accept that nightmares make sense after what you went through, you can take steps to improve your body, your mind, and your sleep habits. Improving these might help your dream content. 

Your body

  • Exercise regularly. This can decrease stress hormones. (Avoid exercising too close to bedtime though.) 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other recreational drugs; they may interfere with sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and stretching at bedtime. 

Your mind

  • Process your feelings about what you went through. Write about them in a journal, talk to a counselor, submit them to a “higher power” in prayer, etc. 
  • Try thought blocking. When distressing thoughts related to the trauma come up throughout the day, order those thoughts to “STOP!”, then distract yourself with a good book, hobby, or even a household chore.

Your sleep habits

  • Try to get regular hours of sleep: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid associating your bed with anything other than sleep or sex. If a nightmare leaves you restless in bed, get up and try to relax in another room.

Tell your doctor

An occasional sleepless night or nightmare is normal, especially after facing trauma. If, however, you continue to suffer from nightmares and other sleep disturbances, please tell your doctor. Your trouble sleeping may result from other physical or psychological events that require medical attention.

Whether your sleep problems are intermittent or chronic, try not to add anxiety about sleep disruption to the situation. Look beyond this distressing time in your life and anticipate restored peace and sweet dreams. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Dream Therapy by Sarah O. Richards; Sleep and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Pamela Swales, PhD; www.ptsd.va.gov; “Sleep Psychologists in Demand” by Deborah Smith. Monitor on Psychology. October 2001, Vol. 32, No. 9.
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Regional Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Normal response to trauma
  • Rethink nightmare content upon wakening
  • Practice good sleep habits

After a trauma, people’s sleep may be disturbed by bad dreams. If nightmares bother you after a traumatic event, try these tips. 

Take control of your dreams

Perhaps you’ve experienced lucid dreaming. While dreaming, not only are you aware that you are in a dream, but you also change the scene as the dream unfolds. If nightmares haunt you after some horrible circumstance, try these tips:

  • As you fall asleep, repeat in your mind, “I will take charge of my dreams tonight.”
  • If a bad dream wakes you up, imagine a new plot for it that doesn’t upset you. 
  • Write down the happier version of the dream. Read it close to bedtime. 
  • Accept that nightmares are normal for a while after a trauma. 

Improve these three things

Even if you accept that nightmares make sense after what you went through, you can take steps to improve your body, your mind, and your sleep habits. Improving these might help your dream content. 

Your body

  • Exercise regularly. This can decrease stress hormones. (Avoid exercising too close to bedtime though.) 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other recreational drugs; they may interfere with sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and stretching at bedtime. 

Your mind

  • Process your feelings about what you went through. Write about them in a journal, talk to a counselor, submit them to a “higher power” in prayer, etc. 
  • Try thought blocking. When distressing thoughts related to the trauma come up throughout the day, order those thoughts to “STOP!”, then distract yourself with a good book, hobby, or even a household chore.

Your sleep habits

  • Try to get regular hours of sleep: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid associating your bed with anything other than sleep or sex. If a nightmare leaves you restless in bed, get up and try to relax in another room.

Tell your doctor

An occasional sleepless night or nightmare is normal, especially after facing trauma. If, however, you continue to suffer from nightmares and other sleep disturbances, please tell your doctor. Your trouble sleeping may result from other physical or psychological events that require medical attention.

Whether your sleep problems are intermittent or chronic, try not to add anxiety about sleep disruption to the situation. Look beyond this distressing time in your life and anticipate restored peace and sweet dreams. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Dream Therapy by Sarah O. Richards; Sleep and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Pamela Swales, PhD; www.ptsd.va.gov; “Sleep Psychologists in Demand” by Deborah Smith. Monitor on Psychology. October 2001, Vol. 32, No. 9.
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Regional Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Normal response to trauma
  • Rethink nightmare content upon wakening
  • Practice good sleep habits

After a trauma, people’s sleep may be disturbed by bad dreams. If nightmares bother you after a traumatic event, try these tips. 

Take control of your dreams

Perhaps you’ve experienced lucid dreaming. While dreaming, not only are you aware that you are in a dream, but you also change the scene as the dream unfolds. If nightmares haunt you after some horrible circumstance, try these tips:

  • As you fall asleep, repeat in your mind, “I will take charge of my dreams tonight.”
  • If a bad dream wakes you up, imagine a new plot for it that doesn’t upset you. 
  • Write down the happier version of the dream. Read it close to bedtime. 
  • Accept that nightmares are normal for a while after a trauma. 

Improve these three things

Even if you accept that nightmares make sense after what you went through, you can take steps to improve your body, your mind, and your sleep habits. Improving these might help your dream content. 

Your body

  • Exercise regularly. This can decrease stress hormones. (Avoid exercising too close to bedtime though.) 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other recreational drugs; they may interfere with sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and stretching at bedtime. 

Your mind

  • Process your feelings about what you went through. Write about them in a journal, talk to a counselor, submit them to a “higher power” in prayer, etc. 
  • Try thought blocking. When distressing thoughts related to the trauma come up throughout the day, order those thoughts to “STOP!”, then distract yourself with a good book, hobby, or even a household chore.

Your sleep habits

  • Try to get regular hours of sleep: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid associating your bed with anything other than sleep or sex. If a nightmare leaves you restless in bed, get up and try to relax in another room.

Tell your doctor

An occasional sleepless night or nightmare is normal, especially after facing trauma. If, however, you continue to suffer from nightmares and other sleep disturbances, please tell your doctor. Your trouble sleeping may result from other physical or psychological events that require medical attention.

Whether your sleep problems are intermittent or chronic, try not to add anxiety about sleep disruption to the situation. Look beyond this distressing time in your life and anticipate restored peace and sweet dreams. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Dream Therapy by Sarah O. Richards; Sleep and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Pamela Swales, PhD; www.ptsd.va.gov; “Sleep Psychologists in Demand” by Deborah Smith. Monitor on Psychology. October 2001, Vol. 32, No. 9.
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Regional Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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