Complex PTSD: Night Terrors and Sleep Disturbances

Understanding and Overcoming Trauma in Our Dreams

Night terrors are not the same as nightmares. Although neither is fun, and both can impact your overall sleep quality and health, night terrors are much more than a typical bad dream. One potential cause of night terrors is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some people with a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis have what’s called complex post-traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD. If you have C-PTSD, you may experience additional symptoms and, potentially, more severe symptoms than other people with PTSD. Night terrors disproportionately affect people with both standard PTSD and C-PTSD compared to the general population.

If you or your loved one is experiencing these extreme sleep disturbances, you know how difficult complex PTSD night terrors and the diagnosis itself can be.

While night terrors can be scary and incredibly disruptive, they are not a life sentence. Treating complex post-traumatic stress disorder can help you overcome night terrors, related sleep issues, and other signs of C-PTSD. So, what should you know?

This article will go over what night terrors are, understanding sleep problems like night terrors in PTSD, how treatment can help a variety of sleep issues that present in people with trauma, other symptoms of C-PTSD, and everything you need to know about getting help at Icarus Behavioral Health.

What Are Night Terrors?

Night Terrors

Night terrors are repeated episodes of waking up from deep sleep accompanied by panic, intense fear, inconsolable screaming, relative unresponsiveness, and signs of autonomic arousal like rapid heartbeat or tachycardia.

Sometimes, night terrors are also called sleep terrors. A night terror is more intense than a nightmare, and it tends to occur at different times in the sleep process than nightmares do.

Sleep occurs in four stages. Research suggests that night terrors happen during the third sleep stage. Often referred to as non-REM sleep or slow wave sleep, this is the deepest stage of sleep people experience.

Understanding Sleep Problems and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Sleep disturbance is a well-known symptom of PTSD. Research suggests that up to 90% of people with PTSD display insomnia symptoms, and 50-70% have nightmares. This isn’t where the research ends. Sleep-disordered breathing, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and other sleep disorders are also more common in people with PTSD and some other mental health conditions.

It’s also indicated that people with PTSD are more prone to disruptions both in rapid eye movement sleep and non-REM sleep, which could explain the connection between PTSD and complex PTSD night terrors.

Specifically, sleep medicine research says that people struggling with PTSD are prone to experiencing more stage one light sleep, fragmented REM sleep, and less restorative sleep. If you feel very fatigued alongside other sleep issues, it completely makes sense.

Unfortunately, sleep disruption caused by PTSD can have a very serious impact on your overall health. Getting PTSD night terrors and other sleep disturbances under control is important for avoiding future sleep loss and protecting your mental and physical well-being.

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The Well Known Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

People with PTSD, CPTSD, anxiety, and other mental health conditions often have poor sleep quality, whether that means they don’t get enough restful sleep or enough sleep at all. Lack of sleep is known to trigger worsened symptoms of mental health conditions.

But, what else happens if you don’t get enough sleep — especially on a regular basis?

Consequences of sleep deprivation include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • A greater likelihood of developing diabetes.
  • An elevated risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
  • New or worsening mental health symptoms (e.g., increased depression or anxiety symptoms, irritability, trouble concentrating).
  • Higher rates of accidents and injury, which could be due to slowed reaction time.
  • An increased risk of kidney disease.
  • Daytime sleepiness and a fear or inability to fall asleep when desired.

Whether you have PTSD-related nightmares, sleep terrors, or other issues with sleep, treating PTSD is the best way to address them for good.

How Treatment for C-PTSD Can Help Resolve Night Terrors

Treatment for C-PTSD

Trauma treatment can help you resolve both sleep-related and daytime PTSD symptoms. Since many people with PTSD have sleep disorders, PTSD nightmares, and night terrors, addressing all of these concerns comprehensively is the best approach to treatment.

Similarly, concurrent depression, substance abuse, and other mental disorders should be addressed in an effective treatment program.

Icarus Behavioral Health’s programs are an ideal solution for those seeking help with PTSD-induced night terrors, trauma, and other challenges. We have a full team of clinical medical and mental health staff with various specialties, including trauma and a diverse set of therapies known to address past trauma effectively.

How Does Effective Treatment for Trauma and CPTSD Work?

In treatment, you’ll reflect on and process traumatic experiences with the support of licensed professionals. Managing stress is often a goal for people with trauma, sleep problems, or anxiety disorders. The therapies we use can help you manage stress, talk about distressing dreams, learn effective self-soothing and relaxation techniques, and reduce your overall PTSD symptom severity.

Icarus Behavioral Health has inpatient and outpatient trauma treatment programs. That way, all clients can get the intensity of care and treatment schedule they need. Before you start treatment with us, we’ll ask about your current symptoms and help you explore which level of care is best for you during an intake assessment.

For example, clients seeking help for PTSD symptoms who want and are able to continue working or going to school while getting treatment might prefer our mental health intensive outpatient program (IOP).

If you have a co-occurring substance use disorder, which a significant portion of people with PTSD experience, we can recommend you to our detox program first. Clients experiencing substance abuse must be off of all substances before they enter one of our inpatient or outpatient programs. We have both inpatient and outpatient detox options to help you through the initial process of getting off of substances if needed.

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Evidence-Based Therapies for C-PTSD and Healthy Sleep

Aligned with the latest research, our treatment center uses a combination of treatment options to address PTSD, night terrors, and other sleep disturbances. This includes lifestyle changes, various mental health therapies such as imagery rehearsal therapy, and other treatments, like medication management.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) asserts that all of these practices and supportive alternative therapies can address PTSD symptoms effectively. Good sleep hygiene is also an essential area to address in clients struggling with sleep.

Clients in our residential inpatient, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs all have a structured schedule of group therapy, individual therapy, and other treatments throughout the week.

We are here to listen and help you find what works to address your needs. Here are some of the treatments and activities clients in our trauma programs benefit from.

No matter what level of care you’re in at our treatment center, you will get a customized treatment plan. Your treatment schedule will be specific to you. For example, one client might benefit from family therapy, but it might not be included in another person’s treatment schedule for various reasons.

What are the Most Common Symptoms of C-PTSD Aside from Night Terrors?

Sleep disturbance - Common Symptoms of C-PTSD

People suffering with C-PTSD can experience all of the typical symptoms seen in people with PTSD. If you live with C-PTSD, you might experience additional symptoms as well. PTSD is diagnosed based on criteria in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). PTSD symptoms must last for at least one month for a diagnosis to occur.

Here are some typical PTSD symptoms, which people who have PTSD or C-PTSD might experience.

  • Flashbacks.
  • Recurrent traumatic memories related to a traumatic event.
  • Physical symptoms of stress.
  • Avoiding people, places, things, or memories related to a traumatic event.
  • Avoiding feelings or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event.
  • Sleep disturbances or trouble staying asleep (aside from CPTSD night terrors).
  • Feeling tense, uneasy, on edge, or guarded (forms of hypervigilance).
  • Reckless, risky, or self-destructive behavior.
  • Changes in mood (e.g., feeling down or distressed).
  • Negative thoughts about oneself, other people, or the world.
  • Social isolation or withdrawal from other people.
  • Trouble feeling positive emotions, like joy or happiness.
  • Lots of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating.
  • Increased irritability or anger.
  • Being startled more easily.
  • Distressing thoughts.

Additional symptoms seen in C-PTSD may include but aren’t limited to difficulties in building or maintaining interpersonal relationships, intense emotions or emotion dysregulation, and poor self-perception.

Treatment for C-PTSD at Icarus Behavioral Health places a special focus on the additional concerns that might arise in clients with C-PTSD. You can set goals to manage symptoms like PTSD night terrors or negative relationship patterns in treatment.

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What Leads to C-PTSD and Night Terrors?

What’s the difference between PTSD and C-PTSD? Aside from challenges and symptoms that can be unique to complex PTSD, the type of traumatic event or events a person endures is an important differentiating factor.

While PTSD can be caused by any traumatic event, including singular traumatic events like a natural disaster, complex PTSD involves repeated or ongoing trauma. Examples of ongoing events that could cause C-PTSD symptoms include but aren’t limited to the following.

  • Childhood trauma: Neglect, abandonment, and emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood (also known as adverse childhood events) are all heavily associated with complex PTSD. Chronic poverty, housing instability, exposure to unmanaged substance abuse or mental health concerns in the family, and other adverse childhood experiences are also linked to C-PTSD.
  • Domestic violence: Domestic violence is often prolonged, and experiencing or witnessing it can be traumatic. Growing up in a household where domestic violence was present can be a highly traumatic experience, and being in an abusive relationship is a common form of complex trauma as well.
  • War: Combat veterans experience continued exposure to violence and loss but rarely have time to process their feelings and grief in real-time. This can lead to C-PTSD in some instances.

Anyone who has experienced a prolonged traumatic event can develop C-PTSD. Some groups are at a higher risk of PTSD or C-PTSD, like those exposed to trauma at a young age.

Verifying Your Insurance for C-PTSD Treatment

Our Joint-Commission accredited treatment center strives to make treatment accessible. Icarus Behavioral Health accepts a wide variety of private health insurance plans for trauma treatment.

We also take many of the Medicaid plans in New Mexico. Call us today to verify your insurance coverage.

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Treatment Complex PTSD

Treating trauma can help you find peace during waking hours, but it can also help with chronic sleep disruption from night terrors that are connected to PTSD. Sleep is an important part of caring for your overall health, and our whole-person approach is dedicated to addressing all aspects of well-being in clients.

To schedule a tour, ask questions about treatment, or get your health insurance verified, call Icarus Behavioral Health today. Our admissions line is available 24/7.

All calls are confidential, so please reach out for support at Icarus now!

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FAQs Regarding CPTSD and Night Terrors

How do you stop night terrors with PTSD?

Therapy and medication treatments can be helpful for PTSD nightmares. Research shows that recurrent nightmares from PTSD can be reduced or alleviated with treatment. When night terrors are associated with PTSD, treating past trauma can be helpful.

What happens when C-PTSD is triggered?

Identifying triggers is one of the things that often happens in treatment. When C-PTSD is triggered, many people experience a fight, flight, or freeze response. Some people may freeze up, get irritable or anxious, feel jittery, shake, or go through other symptoms.

For those who experience them, sleep disruptions and night terrors tend to occur more when a person is going through a difficult patch with C-PTSD symptoms. Developing coping skills in treatment can help you get them under control.

How does a person with complex PTSD act?

Everyone with complex PTSD has unique experiences. Additionally, like everyone else, people living with complex PTSD can display different personality types, behaviors, and actions.

Common symptoms people with CPTSD struggle with can include but aren’t limited to disturbed sleep, higher rates of anxiety, and difficulty connecting with other people in healthy ways (e.g., difficulties in interpersonal relationships or trouble forming healthy attachments). All of these things can impact behavior.

Developing a strong support system of people you feel good about yourself around and getting treatment that teaches healthy coping strategies can be incredibly helpful for people with C PTSD.


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