Veterans with PTSD Fueling the Study of Nightmares

Veterans with PTSD Fueling the Study of Nightmares

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.

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