PTSD dreams are, in my experience, the most vivid dreams one can have. The dreams from PTSD are most often a reliving of the trauma as we sleep. The dreams and can range anywhere from a nightmare to a full on night terror. What adds to this is that we are powerless to stop the dream, we experience the helplessness, powerlessness, and terror which seem as real as the experience itself.
I have an acquaintance who is a veteran with PTSD and clinical depression. Several years ago, he was in a VA mental health unit for his disorder. His roommate was a Viet Nam Vet who had a wicked case of PTSD. When they went to bed at night, soon after this unfortunate gentleman went to sleep, he began tossing and turning and thrashing around. He started mumbling in a fearful way, this escalated in to yelling and screaming, pretending he was shooting and actually got out of bed, asleep and went from nightmare to night-terror reliving his war traumas. He would slug and beat things and show intense terror. You can imagine my friends were quite frightened to have this roommate, at the same time he felt great sympathy and empathy for him. This is an extreme example of how torturous and vivid the nightmares can be.
The Difference Between PTSD Flashbacks, Nightmares and Night Terrors:
- Flashbacks occur while one is awake, and they are actually reliving the trauma as if it were happening in that exact moment. They feel the sensations, see the trauma, smell the smells, and hear the sounds as they once happened. They are not aware of their surroundings. They are in that moment in the same time and place of the trauma. Flashbacks are not hallucinations. Hallucinations are things that are seen and heard of something that never happened in the past or at the present. Flashbacks, as I said, are the reliving of the true and actual event of trauma.
- Nightmares, as I’ve already established, and as we all know, occur in our dreams. They too are vivid, reliving the moment, also hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling all that happened during the actual trauma. But, it is a dream, and we wake up, and know it is a dream.
- Night Terror is when the PTSD dreamer is having a nightmare from which they do not wake up and they begin to act out there nightmare. This is the most threating form of PTSD dreams as the dreamer is acting out their previous trauma and is unaware of the real surroundings. In this scenario the dreamer may hurt themselves or others.
When I have experienced a PTSD dream, it is not easy for me to wake up and say, “Oh just a dream, not real, I’m safe.” Because in the dream I am reliving the trauma, I am left with the terror and emotions and fears of the trauma. I am setback for the entire day. When they continue, my life can get pretty miserable and stressful.
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