How To Treat PTSD Nightmares

“Am I awake or am I dreaming? It doesn’t matter anymore. When I close my eyes I dream of death and war. When I open my eyes I see death and war” – Michael Anthony  

Nightmares are a significant characteristic of people suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder. Most patients suffering from PTSD find themselves waking up to the same distressing dream for days and at times, even months. These dreams bring back the feelings of fear, stress and anxiety, and a sense of vulnerability. You may find yourself tossing and turning in your bed for hours, hyperventilated, and soaked in sweat.  According to many patients, having a nightmare is the same as reliving the traumatic moment again. Nightmares can manifest several troubles while sleeping, and at times also push you into a panic mode. 

Sleep is important for the normal functioning of your body and mind. If you have recurring dreams post a traumatic event it is advisable that you consult an expert and seek PTSD therapy. There are various approaches to treat nightmares at home, some of them are listed below. 

  • Meditate before sleeping 

Meditation has the power to control your emotions and declutter your mind. The mind will always try to remind you of the dreaded event and you will soon sink in the swirl of negative thoughts. Mindfulness meditation will help you calm down your nerves and get rid of the negative thoughts. Mindfulness meditation usually involves breathing practices and awareness of the body. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit, and slowly start meditating. Practicing mindfulness for 30 minutes a day will help keep the nightmares at bay. You should start slow with 5 minutes at the start and gradually increasing the time. Attune to your breathing, the air moving in and out of your body. Become aware of the little processes in your body, the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe, the blood running underneath your skin, the zephyr touching your hair, your eyelashes. Mindfulness is all about the higher consciousness and noting every thought that passes your mind. You should acknowledge all the thoughts, good or bad, and make a note of them, without panicking or being scared of them. 

  • Change the place of sleep 

Always find a place that is comfortable and makes you feel secure. One of the common symptoms of PTSD is hyperarousal – a state where your body kicks you into a mode of being highly alert of your environment. This is to avoid any danger that may cause any harm to you. However, this will only interfere with your sleep time. Hence the place where you repose should be clean and cozy. Find a place where you feel safe. Make changes in the room, add soft blankets and cushions to your bed. If you sleep alone, get a body pillow, this will make you feel warm and safe. You can use nightlights, if you don’t like to sleep in complete darkness. Use essential oils, fragrant candles for sleeping better. 

  • Lifestyle changes  

A healthy lifestyle is necessary for quality sleep. Start incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine. Limit your intake of coffee or caffeinated drinks. Sweet foods like ice cream, sugary items, chocolates, etc. boost energy and keeps you awake at night. Many people choose stimulants like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, for getting away with the pain, however they are harmful for your health. Make a schedule of your day, and make time to exercise, meditate and rest. Stress management is another important aspect of PTSD treatment. Manage your stress levels by talking to your near and dear ones. Maintain a journal, by doing you will be able to vent out your feelings, and analyze what you are through. You can also use the journal to rewrite the dream. It is also known as Imagery Rehearsal therapy, which can help you end trauma.  Apart from this, limit your exposure to electronic gadgets, before you go to sleep. Excessive use of social media too can be distressing and can be a reason to trigger nightmares or flashbacks. 

  • Practice  Breathing 

Breathing is one of the effective ways to blow off some steam and give you quick relief. Breathing detoxifies the body and declutters the mind. Deep breathing will stimulate energy and lower the blood pressure. Hence, make it a goal to practice breathing exercises every day for 10 to 15 minutes before you go to bed. A nightmares will leave you vulnerable and you may face palpitations, sweating, stress, anxiety, and at times even hyperventilate. Breathing will calm you down. Breathing exercises are beneficial in taming your nightmares, hence some of the breathing exercises that you should try are diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing exercises, 4-7-8 breathing, pranayama, kapalbhati, alternate nasal breathing, box breathing, etc. 

  • Exercise 

One of the symptoms of PTSD is hyperarousal – a state where the body kicks into a mode of high alertness, as a result of thinking about the trauma. Hence the body acts as if it is in danger even if it isn’t. One of the ways to blow off steam is to exercise. The benefits of regular exercise are known to everyone. Exercising regularly will tire you and it will be easier to sleep at night. A good mental health can only be ensured if you have a healthy physic. Start off slow by exercising for 10 to 15 minutes per day. You can get rid of all the toxins in the body. Apart from this exercising will also divert your mind from the traumatic events. Committing to exercising for around 30 to 45 mins will have a great impact on your mental health. 

  • Therapy 

Mental health issues are often ignored by people because of the stigma attached to it. It is important that you acknowledge the problems you have and seek neurocritical care. In therapy communicating with a mental health professional will help you overcome your illness. A therapist will be able to find the root cause of your nightmare and prescribe your medications accordingly. There are several psychotherapeutic options such as Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT), and other nightmare focused cognitive therapies that will help you cope up with PTSD.  

Any mental disorder can be treated, if you have the courage and will to recover. Having a mental health issue is not a cause of embarrassment. With the love and support of your loved ones, you can overcome any problem.