Posted by: annemartinfletcher | August 12, 2012

Coping with PTSD Nightmares and Night Terrors

Too strong for too long.

The moderator on the Facebook page U.S. ARMY FEMALES posted a vet’s request for help developing a mindset to deal with recurring nightmares that interfer with daily functioning. This vet was aware of many websites and, of course, the possibility of treatment options through the VA. Several commenters also steered the vet to non-government health resources, which apparently can be done through the website or through Operation Mend and some of the resources listed in my sidebar. Comments mentioned helper pets, talking to loved ones, medications, and a variety of coping mechanisms, making it clear that different things help different people. In the paragraphs below, I’ll repeat the advice I left.

1) Know that you are not crazy, you just lived through a crazy, surreal experience.

2) Find a way, even when in your own pain, to serve others, because that is how you survived in the first place. Serving others might mean mowing the lawn for a neighbor, pouring coffee at your church social hour, or it might mean rebuilding after earthquakes in an organization like Team Rubicon. See suggestions on my “How to Help a Soldier” article.

3) Writing a journal can help (see

4)  Unfortunately, what happened is now always a part of you, and there is no easy wrap-up that will make it disappear. Accept this is part of you now. This is the sacrifice you made. Clint Van Winkle, in Soft Spots, wrote:
This is the final page of my first book and I desperately want to find a way to wrap it all up in a neat little package, find a happy ending to the last few hundred pages of misery. I’d like to be able to say I am cured because of EMDR [an electro stimulus treatment], but I know better. It isn’t that easy. The vivid memories I collected in combat won’t disappear. A piece of me will always be in Iraq.

5) If talking doesn’t help enough, or if you just can’t talk yet, try reading so you will know you are not alone. Here is my suggested reading list: Soft Spots, Danger Close: The Mike Yon Story by Mike Yon, and a novel Home Front by Kristin Hannah. Just have boxes of kleenex nearby.

God bless you!

I just read an interesting, but undocumented source, that suggest resetting your sleep habits so you wake up after REM sleep starts but before the nightmare finishes — about 4 hours. Then get up, relax, think of a new ending, and then try to go to sleep for another few hours.

If this has worked for any readers, please log in anonymously (lower right sidebar) and let us know. If you have any comments on how any of these suggestions help or not, please leave a few words for others in the same situation. Thank you.


  1. I can’t tell you enough how thankful I am you wrote this post. I’ve spent the last 11 years around military families torn apart by this war and from my small slice of the world, I am working on ways to bring awareness to issues that plague Veterans. My first fiction novel deals with PTSD and in the two follow-ups, I plan to handle Veteran homelessness and Women’s Violence. Writing is the best way I can articulate to every day Americans how these things damage people (even if it motivates only one person to act.). If you have any advice, I’d love to have it. Thank you again, Jenny

  2. Jenny, Thank you for commenting. I’ll send you an email.

  3. According to a pilot study published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Healing and Caring, veterans with high levels of PTSD saw their PTSD levels drop to within normal limits after treatment. They reported that combat memories that had previously haunted them, including graphic details of deaths, mutilations, and firefights, dropped in intensity to the point where they no longer resulted in flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD. The study involved veterans from Vietnam, as well as more recent conflicts. *

    Our favorite website

  4. Ernie Jalkut, thank you for your input!

    When I looked up several of these studies, they cover therapies such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (, Healing from the Body Level Up (, Resilience Training, and Thought Field Therapy. Electro Stimulous Training and eye movement training have also shown to be partially effective. The problem with many of these studies is that they use a statistically insignificant number of patients. As a statistician, I take huge exception to a press release reporting, “The pilot study produced statistically highly significant results with just 7 veterans. . ..” The 95% margin of error in a study with seven individuals is 38% (really bad). In the studies that do use an appropriate number, such as 164 firefighters ( or 42 Rwandan orphans ( treatment reduced symptoms, but only “cured” 21% .

    Moral of the story: Every person and case is different.

    Should sufferers try these new, non-invasive treatments? Sure, they might be part of the 21%. Should sufferers expect miracle cures? No.

    Recovery is possible, don’t give up, and realize that the sufferer might have to try several different treatments.

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