(124) Nightmares and Invading Aliens: PTSD, Sleep, and ET

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Sleep Disorders and Veterans 

Do you suffer from sleep deprivation, have nightmares, or sleep too much? These may be signs of PTSD if these symptoms do not go away over time or if they worsen, according to the National Center for PTSD. While sleep problems frequently occur after a traumatic event, for a Veteran with PTSD or TBI, these symptoms may not go away and can make living a normal life difficult. Seeking the help of a doctor is recommended.

The National Center for PTSD offers tips for coping with these symptoms and provides an on-line coaching program to help the Veteran cope; the on-line coaching program even comes with a Mobile App! While your doctor may prescribe sleep medications, they generally are limited to short-term use and often do not help when suffering from severe war trauma. As well, sleep medications may interfere with effective PTSD treatment.

How are PTSD and Sleep Problems Related? 

The VA offers five explanations of how PTSD and sleep problems are related. First, the VA explains that Veterans often stay on high alert after returning from war. The habit and necessity of being on guard prevents one from getting restful sleep after returning to civilian life. The slightest sound, light, or vibration may disrupt sleep. Second, negative thoughts disturb sleep, causing one to sense danger and evade sleep. Third, use of drugs or alcohol interferes with sleep often causing nightmares and/or flashbacks. Fourth, nightmares often follow traumatic events, as the person relives the trauma. Fifth, physical injury from war or other medical problems, resulting from PTSD such as stomach problems and chronic pain, interfere with sleep.

Tips to Help with Sleep 

The VA website recommends several actions:

  1. Change your sleeping area by using it for sleep only and not watching television or listening to the radio; keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Block out all light. Listen to soothing music, use a white noise machine, or wear earplugs to block out noise at night.
  2. Establish a routine for bedtime and walk-up at the same time each morning. For the bedtime routine, the VA recommends no stressful or energizing activities within two hours of bedtime. Create a relaxing routine by taking a warm shower or bath, listen to music, or drink decaf tea each evening before bed.
  3. Exercise and getting outside for sunshine help in restoring the body and reaching a regular routine.
  4. See a doctor if your sleep problems persist.

For more tips, see the VA webpage on “Sleep and PTSD.”

Invading Nightmares 

Although I never experienced a traumatic event, my insomnia began at the age of five with the first of many night terrors. Fifty-three years later, I still experience the night terrors but am finally sleeping more than four or five hours a night. No medication or home remedies work—it is something I live with.

For those Veterans with sleep disorders, the VA wants to help. You have suffered enough and there is help for PTSD and its symptoms. Do not be hesitant in asking for help. Chances are that if you are suffering from sleep problems, you are suffering with other symptoms of PTSD or TBI—most of which are treatable.

Invading Aliens 

Miss Molly and I experience nightmares about invading aliens. In her case, I assume she runs from aliens because of the way her legs move and the sounds she makes in her sleep. For me, aliens visited me in my nightmares long before the movie, ET, hit the big screen.

My husband loves watching alien invasion movies, most of which give me nightmares. After reading an article in the Stars and Stripes dated September 7, I know I am in for another nightmare. The article entitled, “Air Force gives ‘last best offer’ for land near Area 51 testing site,” talked about the Air Force trying to buy landlocked property surrounded by the Nevada bombing range site–often referred to as Area 51 (you know, where the alien spaceships park).

The property owner wants $10.5 million for its 400-acre mining property, which overlooks Groom Lake—the reputed location for highly secret military activity. Referring to the property as “one of many remote locations within the Nevada Test and Training Range,” the Air Force offered $5.2 million. It looks like the standoff heads to eminent domain court (sounds like a bad remake of Cowboys and Aliens). 

Sometimes I wish I did not have such a vivid imagination!

Post your Comments: 

Did you experience nightmares when returning from war? How did you gain control over your sleeping problems? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

  • National Center for PTSD. “PTSD Monthly Update for August 2015,” as retrieved on August 31, 2015.
  • Ritter, Ken. “Air Force gives ‘last best final offer’ for land near Area 51 testing site,” in Stars and Stripes, September 7, 2015, as retrieved on September 8, 2015.
  • US Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD, “Sleep and PTSD,” as retrieved on September 8, 2015.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.