Sleeping With The Lights On

Sleeping With The Lights On

Let’s talk about nightmares.

A couple of people have asked me about them recently, and I think it’s time to shed some light on this.

I had them every night for about 18 months. Sometimes up to 6 a night. Now they are less frequent, but still a problem.

I tried a whole bunch of combinations of prescription sleeping pills and anti-depressants that just made me feel drunk and become overweight. I tried melatonin, NyQuil, and wine. Sometimes all at the same time, don’t tell my doctor.
None of those seemed to work, because they treat a different problem. Sleeping pills treat insomnia, which happens when your sleep cycle is off and you don’t feel tired or can’t fall asleep at night. The pills make you tired, so that you drift peacefully off to sleep and then don’t wake up until morning.

My problem is that I do not want to go to sleep at night. I’m exhausted, sometimes fall-over tired. I just don’t want to fall asleep because I know the nightmares will come. When I was taking sleeping pills, they would sedate me enough that I wouldn’t be able to react properly to the nightmare… I would know that it was a nightmare but not be conscious enough to stop it. That is also known as sleep paralysis, which is the opposite of what I needed.

The nightmares are a debilitating issue for most people with PTSD but it’s not always easy to talk about for a couple reasons.

1. People without PTSD sometimes don’t understand. They have nightmares too, how bad can it be?
Well, it’s a totally different kind of nightmare.

These are not just regular nightmares about showing up at work without a shirt on, or being lost in a funhouse. They are always violent, sometimes you relive the traumatic event all over again. Other times, someone else is being hurt, and you are screaming for help but no one responds. Car crashes, drownings, and hospital explosions (maybe too much Grey’s Anatomy there…) are all pretty typical for me, and the research I have done shows that this is 100% a symptom of PTSD.

Regular nightmares are like cookie crumbs. You know that if you eat a cookie, you might spill crumbs on your shirt but you can usually just brush them off. There may be a little bit of chocolate chip staining but it comes out in the wash.

PTSD nightmares are like a nosebleed. You can sometimes feel it coming, but you can’t stop it. It ruins your shirt and you can’t just ignore it and go about your day. You have to deal with it because you are covered in blood.

2. The content of the nightmares is too scary to want to talk about it.
Who wants to talk about the worst moment of their life? Not me! I never talk about the actual nightmares, unless a therapist tricks me into it. I don’t always find talking about it particularly helpful either. I just want to distract myself with school, work, or mindless television. There are so many productive things you can do at night if you don’t sleep! (Coffee may be the only thing keeping me alive right now)

Tips and Tricks

I made a list of the tips and tricks that I use to get me through the night but it is probably horrible advice and mostly revolves around not sleeping for days at a time. That is just avoiding the issue, and not an option for people who need sleep to function. My tips that may be semi-useful are now mixed in with the advice I have received over the years that I just couldn’t get to work.

  • Teddy bears and stuffed animals
  • Sleep on the couch, or in a ball in your closet. Not comfy but less scary!
  • Remind yourself that you are safe, it’s okay to fall asleep. Think of a safe space and convince yourself that that’s where you are.
  • Bubble baths and meditation. I have heard it is ‘relaxing’ or something. Fun fact: I once told my dad I was going to a spa and he said “that sounds relaxing, you’re gonna hate it!”
  • Sleepovers! I have had some great roommates and friends who are willing to sacrifice a comfy sleep in their bed to stay with me on the couch. It’s a huge favour to ask but can be so helpful!
  • Remind yourself that this is just a cycle and one day you will crash and sleep like a baby.
  • Sleep with the lights on! Night light, hall, or closet lights usually leave the room dark enough to fall asleep but light enough that you’re not totally disoriented when you wake up in a panic.
  • Scientists will tell you not to do this, but I watch full house on my laptop until I fall asleep. It is so family-friendly, I know there won’t be any scary scenes. When I wake up from said nightmare I can just press play again and watch it until I fall back asleep.
  • Keep a dream journal and record the nightmares there. It helps you work through them so they don’t seem as scary. It is supposed to re-frame them in your mind, and the repetition takes the edge off.
  • Medication does work for some people! I am not opposed to it, just didn’t find it helpful.

So, that is nightmares in a nutshell. I clearly don’t have all the answers, but just wanted to let you know that it’s going to be OK one day, and we can figure it out together.

If you want to talk about it, let me know! I can be reached through our facebook page or at

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Hi! I'm Elizabeth, a blogger on When You're I spent 2 years struggling with PTSD and panic attacks following a violent attack. I want to use my experience and my voice to raise support for others. I desperately want to make the world a safer place for girls and women, especially my two little sisters. Keep talking, Keep sharing. When You're Ready, I'll be here.



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