Seems the influx of veterans experiencing nightmares is fueling research in the area of dream studies. One study cited in a Time magazine article showed more than 70% of veterans with PTSD symptoms reported trouble sleeping. And I love this statement of the obvious: “since treating people who are constantly tired is pointless, gaining a better understanding of sleep and dreams became a priority.”
Here’s an interesting statistic: In 1996 there were 337 facilities accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine; today there are over 2000.
First approach: it’s psychological. Treatment: Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT). How it works: start by imaging a dream you would LIKE to have. Write that one down, and every day, take a few minutes (preferably with eyes closed) to think about that dream.
Does it work? The study cited in this article indicated “remarkable results.” Of soldiers with PTSD, 40% reported fewer symptoms such as shame and numbness.
Second approach: it’s physiological. Specifically, it’s about breathing. Some studies indicate up to 90% of patients with persistent nightmares had either sleep apnea (a disorder in which breathing pauses while you sleep) or a milder form called upper-airway-resistance syndrome.
Typical therapy for this is the CPAP machine (pushes air into your mouth), although waking with a tube stuck to one’s face doesn’t have much appeal. There are stimulant medications (to keep one from napping during the day)… AND Ambien-type drugs to get to sleep. (Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture??)
Interesting asides: Did you know there is such a thing as a Warfighter Sleep Kit? (Veterans, let me know, will you?). Apparently it contains a DVD, camouflage mask and earplugs. And then there’s the DreamLight, which sits over your eyes and flashes white lights when your eyes begin moving in a REM pattern. The idea behind this one is “Lucid Dreaming,” where you “take control” of your dreams.
Personally, I think this is good news. The more options there are, the more likely the individual suffering through nightmares will find something that works for him/her. Just be sure to consider all sides/therapies, because at this time, sleep doctors aren’t trained in psychology, and psychologists don’t have medical training.