Traumatic Nightmares

Apr 29, 2022 | Therapy

Counseling for traumatic nightmares can help you to improve sleep, get rid of nightmares and overall manage stress better. Nightmares are highly intense and distressing dreams involving negative emotions, such as fear, and often occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. The chances of experiencing nightmares increases if a person experiences a higher level of stress, if they have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, or Anxiety, or have experienced a stressful or traumatic event. Due to a nightmare’s intensity, it can often lead to a person waking during their REM Sleep which, in turn, causes sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can impact your mood, relationships and physical health, which is why it is helpful to use evidence-based treatments to support you in conquering your nightmares and sleep patterns.

Trauma Therapy CA Nightmare Protocol

Based in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), this Nightmare Protocol provides a person with skills to regain control of their nightmares and improve their sleep. There are seven steps to the DBT Nightmare Protocol, they are:

Step 1: Practice Mindfulness

To ensure you are ready to work on changing your nightmares be sure to practice relaxation, pleasant imagery, and coping skills regularly. This could look like practicing progressive or paced breathing, listening to music, or listening to a guided imagery.

Step 2: Choose a Recurring Nightmare

The nightmare you choose to begin with is considered your target nightmare. You can work with your therapist to ensure that it is a nightmare that you feel you can manage now. Put off particularly intense or distressing trauma nightmares until you feel you are ready to work with them. If you are ready to work on a trauma nightmare, skip Step 3.

Step 3: Write Down Your Target Nightmare

Include sensory descriptions (sights, smells, sounds, tastes, etc.). Also include any thoughts, feelings, and assumptions about yourself during the dream.

Step 4: Choose a Changed Outcome for the Nightmare

The change should occur BEFORE anything traumatic or bad happens to you or others in the nightmare. Essentially, you want to come up with a change that will prevent the bad outcome of the usual nightmare from occurring. Write an ending that will give you a sense of peace when you wake up.

Changes in the nightmare can be very unusual and out of the ordinary. For example, you might become a person with superhuman powers who is able to escape to safety or fight off attackers. Changed outcomes often include changed thoughts, feelings, or assumptions about yourself.

Step 5: Write Down the Full Nightmare with the Changes You Created.

Step 6: REHEARSE and RELAX each night before going to sleep. 

Rehearse the changed nightmare by visualizing the entire dream with the changes each night, before practicing relaxation techniques.

Step 7. REHEARSE and RELAX during the day. 

Visualize the entire dream with the change, and practice relaxation as often as possible during the day. When practicing the DBT Nightmare Protocol remember to start small and ensure that you make your first practice manageable. If this is unsuccessful, please elicit the support of a trained therapist to decrease nightmares and trauma symptoms.

Nightmares can cause a severe lack of sleep in a person which can lead to a decrease in alertness, excessive drowsiness, impaired memory, relationship stress, increased irritability, as well as other health problems. The DBT Nightmare Protocol has been shown to help manage and eliminate recurring nightmares and allows people to have a better quality of sleep.

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