Living with PTSD Nightmares & Tips For Managing the Bad Dreams

I’ve had a hard time getting to sleep over the last few nights. Harder than usual. Last night I laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, praying for the sandman to stop by. That’s when it dawned on me that the reason I couldn’t sleep was fear.

Living with PTSD Nightmares & Tips for Managing the Bad Dreams

True Story Time

I woke up at 5:45 in the morning last Thursday, covered in sweat. My heart pounded slowly. Too slowly. I sat on the edge of the bed, trying to catch my bearings on reality. That’s when I noticed the pain in my left arm radiating up my neck and into my chest. Fear sank in. Was this a heart attack?

I went straight to the shower. Warm water and mindfulness pull me out of panic mode sometimes. Not this time. I was hyper-aware of the change in my heartbeat. It quickened, and the pain worsened. I felt like I might faint. I got out of the shower, dressed, and woke Brandon. Worry crept into his face as he slipped his Apple watch onto my wrist. My resting heart rate was 145.

When I reached the hospital, my pulse held steady at 140. I was in a daze as they ran tests and took x-rays. After they ran an IV, my heart rate slowed, and the pain dissipated. I felt like an idiot when they discharged me with a diagnosis of anxiety and dehydration. They recommended I make an appointment with my doctor to discuss anxiety medications.

PTSD Nightmares

So how did this happen? How did I (an anxiety veteran) wake up out of a dead sleep with heart palpitations in a state of panic? Good question. The answer: PTSD nightmares.

I started having PTSD nightmares when I was 19. These dreams are vivid and rehash traumatic experiences. They aren’t play-by-plays, but they replicate the feelings I felt during my trauma. I wake up in terror, which triggers my panic attacks.

Tips for Coping With PTSD Nightmares

I’ve scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician, as directed. That’s a month from now, though. Before then, I have to get some sleep. If not, personal experience tells me my anxiety could get much worse before I make it to my checkup. Here’s what I’m doing to ease my symptoms before they get out of control:

Zero Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that triggers anxiety and leads to sleep disruptions. There is even some evidence to suggest caffeine can cause nightmares. I’ve already been working on cutting down my caffeine intake, now I’m cutting it out completely.

Bedtime Routine

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine eases anxiety and may cut down on the number of nightmares you experience. My regular nighttime regimen has been disrupted for a couple of months, ever since my tablet died.

Without my tablet, I’ve been unable to read. Reading is a big part of my nightly regimen. I can’t help wondering if this disruption to my routine is what led to my early morning panic attack. With this weighing on my mind, I decided to go ahead and purchase a Kindle.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique used to help ease tension in the body. Employing this technique before bed allows you to fall asleep faster. Sleeping with fewer disruptions and curbing nightmares.

Weighted Blanket

Studies suggest the symptoms of PTSD can be alleviated with the use of a weighted blanket. These blankets provide deep pressure touch stimulation, which calm anxieties. I’ve been looking at this one for a couple of months and it’s on sale! It first caught my eye when I started thinking about redecorating the master bedroom, I’m thinking it’s time to finally take the plunge.

Temperature Adjustments

The temperature in your bedroom can impact the quality of your sleep. Too hot or too cold can cause sleep disruptions, making you more likely to experience nightmares. The ideal temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees.


A 2008 German sleep study found that scent has a direct impact on the content of dreams. Foul smells lead to nightmares, while florals (like roses) produce sweet dreams. I’ve got this lavender linen spray in my Amazon cart as we speak.


According to my ER doctor, hydrating before bed is more important than you realize. Dehydration causes anxiety and heart palpitations. Drinking water thins the blood, making it easier for your heart to pump it through your veins. Drinking 500mL before bed should help ease the panic symptoms you feel after waking up from an intense nightmare.

Implement a Bedtime

Keeping a regular wake-sleep schedule helps keep anxiety in check. It helps when your circadian rhythm aligns with natural sunlight patterns. Going to bed earlier has its benefits – one of those being fewer nightmares.

Eliminate Late-Night Snacking

I’m not much for snacking, but occasionally I get up and eat a pickle spear at 10 o’clock at night. Apparently, this isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to avoid nightmares. Snacking this late activates your metabolism and prepares your brain for activity. This results in bad dreams.

Dream Journal

Keeping track of your dreams helps you recognize your dream patterns and recurrent nightmares. With this information, you may be able to determine if something in your daily life is triggering your dreams. I love this dream journal, because it includes an interpretation guide. Plus, it’s super cute.

I’m hoping by implementing these changes, I’ll be able to keep the nightmares at bay until I visit my primary care doctor. Hopefully, the peaceful sleep will continue even beyond that.

What do you do to prevent nightmares, or help yourself get a good night’s sleep? Drop a comment below to let me know! 🙂



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