According to the dictionary diagnosis in PsychCentral, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a “debilitating mental disorder that follows experiencing or witnessing an extremely traumatic, tragic, or terrifying event” (PTSD Info & Treatment, 2013). While this definition describes the general definition of PTSD, the DSM-IV states that the criteria for being diagnosed with PTSD varies between a person who “experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others” and/or “the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror” (DSM-IV, Appendix E). Such experiences can include various situations such as military involvement for veterans, domestic abuse, and even divorce.
It is stated that once a person experiences a traumatic event, PTSD can develop as a combination of varying symptoms. When diagnosing possible PTSD patients, clinicians use the DSM-IV as a guide in “understanding clusters of symptoms” (Staggs, para. 1). Some of these symptoms include “recurrent and intrusive” recollections of the situation, “including images, thoughts, or perceptions; acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring; intense psychological distress” to symbols representing trauma; and “recurrent distressing dreams of the event”, or nightmares/terrors (DSM-IV, Appendix E). While all symptoms play an important factor in diagnosing a patient with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the most common of the symptoms are the recurring dreams according to a statement in Dreaming in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Critical Review of Phenomology, Psychophysiology and Treatment by Wittmann, Schredl, and Kramer. “Sleep disturbances have been considered the hallmark of posttraumatic stress disorder. The DSM-IV criteria for PTSD include two aspects of sleep disturbances: recurrent nightmares, listed in the re-experiencing cluster, and sleep continuity disturbances, often caused by posttraumatic dreams, listed in the hyper-arousal cluster” (Wittmann, Schredl, & Kramer, page 26). Although there is a great amount of research done on generally PTSD and sleep, there is only a select amount on the connection between PTSD and dreaming. Therefore this research paper will be focusing on discussing how experiencing a traumatic event, leading into posttraumatic stress disorder, results in recurring dreams/nightmares and whether or not these dreams/nightmares are, in fact, a symptom of PTSD. This will be presented in research done on PTSD and sleep as well as different supporting cases examples of patients with PTSD and their correlating dreams/nightmares.
Trauma and the Brain
To begin, we must first understand what ways a traumatic event can be connected to a person, in both their body and their brain. According to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder What Happens in the Brain? By Sethanne Howard & Mark Crandall, PTSD connects with...