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Post-Traumatic Stress-Induced Nightmares

By August 29, 2019 December 6th, 2019 Blog

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) is a completely common and normal response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event. One of the most common symptoms of PTS is “re-experiencing” the traumatic experience through flashbacks and nightmares or distressing dreams.

Post-traumatic stress induced nightmares are generally defined as threatening or frightening dreams that can wake a person up and may be marked by any intense negative emotions, such as fear, anger, or even sadness. These nightmares cause significant distress (both during the dream, and after awakening) and may occur several times a week. Distressing dreams caused by PTS are not the same as the typical nightmare.

In general, post-traumatic nightmares are more intense than regular dreams and are similar to waking flashback memories; they contain replays of the actual traumatic event and more scenes of death and violence than normal dreams. At least 50% of PTSD patients suffer from re-experiencing nightmares that incorporate clear elements or even contain exact replications of a traumatic event (termed “replicative nightmares”). Another 20-25% of people suffering from PTS and PTSD experience posttraumatic nightmares that are not an exact replay of a traumatic memory but are still often symbolically or indirectly related to the traumatic event.

Distressing dreams linked to PTS can cause people to avoid sleeping, leading to extreme fatigue and exhaustion. When a person does not receive the appropriate amount of sleep, they will experience a lack of alertness, impaired memory, relationship stress and decreased quality of life. These, however, are just short-term symptoms. A person who continues to avoid sleep for a long period of time, may experience more extreme symptoms, such as: high blood pressure, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, heart failure, or even stroke.

Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) is a completely common and normal response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event. Just about everyone who survives a trauma will experience at least a few symptoms of post-traumatic stress. When people are under extreme stress, such as during a traumatic event, the human brain instinctively tells the body to tense the muscles, pump more blood and breathe faster. This instinctive reaction is known as the “fight or flight” response, which prepares the body to deal with a threat or challenge.

Potential PTS symptoms are as follows:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaky hands
  • Nightmares
  • Avoidance of  anything that reminds the person of their traumatic experience
  • Feelings of fear and nervousness

While these symptoms may be momentarily intense, symptoms of PTS usually subside a few days after the traumatic event; PTS does not cause any prolonged interference with a person’s life and daily activities.

It is important to note that PTS is not the same as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Unlike PTS symptoms which typically subside within a month of the traumatic event, PTSD symptoms are more persistent, can interfere with daily functioning, and can last for more than a month. 

What is Trauma?

Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrifying, distressing event. Some examples of common traumatic events are: natural disasters, car accidents, and assault.  Trauma can happen to anyone at any time in any place; it does not discriminate. It is approximated that 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma at some point in their lives.

Additionally, women are more likely to experience traumatic events such as sexual assault and child sexual abuse, while men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disasters, or witness a death or injury.

There are many symptoms associated with trauma one may experience, including: 

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness
  • Emotions such as sadness, anger, denial, fear, and shame
  • Nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping
  • Insomnia or altered sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty maintaining and starting new relationships 
  • Emotional, specifically angry outbursts
  • Gastrointestinal problems 

All of these symptoms and feelings are a completely natural and normal part of the recovery process after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. However, sometimes these symptoms may continue without diminishing. Over time, if not treated, it may potentially develop into a psychological disorder, the most common being PTSD. 

Early Intervention and Treatment is Critical

Trauma and PTS can potentially leave lasting scars that can completely alter an individual’s demeanor and character for the rest of their life if left untreated. Additionally, consistent, distressing dreams can be extremely detrimental to someone’s health if not treated. Seeking treatment can completely turn a person’s life around after a traumatic event, giving them the chance to get back to the life they had before the trauma.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for both PTS and PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages of ART is the speed at which it is able to bring relief. Normally, only one to five sessions are needed, instead of months or years required by other therapies.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing a person from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on bullying victims, combat vets, and others.

Do not let PTS-induced nightmares continue to control your life. Contact ART International Training and Research to learn more about ART or to find a therapist near you.