About 1 in 20 people suffer from nightmares. However, amongst those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), research indicates that this increases to approximately 70% – 95%. Those with PTSD may well also suffer from related psychological problems including intrusive memories, flashbacks and panic disorder.
Often, the content of the nightmare in those who suffer from PTSD will relate closely to the original trauma – resulting in a partial reliving of the experience/experiences. However, this is not always the case.
People who suffer from trauma-related nightmares are more likely to have accompanying body movements (e.g. thrashing about – yes, that really does happen, as I can vouch for personally; it’s not just in the movies!) during their frightening dreams than those who have nightmares which are non-trauma related.
Nightmares More Prevalent In Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Sufferers
Semiz et al. conducted a study to investigate the quality of sleep (as measured by clinical interviews)) in individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (a condition closely linked to early life childhood, interpersonal, severe, and protracted trauma).
Eighty-eight BPD sufferers took part in the study and they were compared to one hundred healthy control subjects.
It was found that those individuals with BPD in comparison to the healthy controls:
- experienced significantly more nightmares
- experienced significantly more ‘dream anxiety’
- experienced significantly more sleep disturbance
Further analysis of the results also revealed that the BPD sufferers who were classified as having nightmare disorder (ND) were more likely to have a particularly severe type of BPD in relation to several of the condition’s key symptoms.
The researchers concluded that addressing sleep disturbance in those with BPD through appropriate therapy may help to alleviate other symptoms of BPD.
TREATMENT FOR TRAUMA-RELATED NIGHTMARES :
The standard treatment for PTSD itself often improves nightmares. However, there is also a specific therapy available known as IMAGERY REHEARSAL THERAPY. This form of therapy involves the individual, under the guidance of the therapist, rehearsing the content of the nightmare WHEN AWAKE repeatedly and changing the ending of the nightmare to make it less frightening.
More research needs to be conducted on the effectiveness of drugs at reducing nightmares, but, to date, the most promising drug for this treatment is called PRAZOSIN.
Also, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) have been shown in studies to be effective.
Some therapists claim to be able to help individuals who suffer from nightmares to turn these nightmares into what are known as LUCID DREAMS ( a lucid dream is a dream in which a person is aware s/he is dreaming and can exercise control over what happens in the dream. It is a genuine phenomenon; I know this because I have had about half-a-dozen such dreams in my life-time). However, more research needs to be conducted on this subject.
Finally, hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis can be used to reduce and improve nightmares by helping with changing the dream content (see above) and helping the person transform the nightmare into a lucid dream (see above). More on this can be found in the paper: ‘Hypnotherapy for Sleep Disorders‘ (Beng-Yeong Ng).
Disclaimer: Always seek medical advice before taking medication to treat nightmares.
Umit B Semiz, Cengiz Basoglu, Servet Ebrinc, Mesut Cetin. Nightmare disorder, dream anxiety, and subjective sleep quality in patients with borderline personality disorder. PMID: 18289141. DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-1819.2007.01789.x
BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).