Management of Post-Traumatic Nightmares: a Review of Pharmacologic and Nonpharmacologic Treatments Since 2013

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Post-traumatic nightmares (PTN) are a common and enduring problem for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other clinical presentations. PTN cause significant distress, are associated with large costs, and are an independent risk factor for suicide. Pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment options for PTN exist. A previous review in this journal demonstrated that Prazosin, an alpha blocker, was a preferred pharmacological treatment for PTN and imagery rescripting therapy (IRT) was a preferred non-pharmacological treatment. Since that time, new and important research findings create the need for an updated review.

Recent Findings

Based on the results of a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Prazosin has been downgraded by both the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Veterans Health Administration/Department of Defense (VA/DoD) for PTN. In Canada, Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, appears to be promising. Few recent studies have been published on non-pharmacological interventions for PTN; however, recent data is available with regard to using IRT on an inpatient setting, with German combat veterans, and through the use of virtual technology. Recent evidence supports the use of exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy (ERRT) with children and individuals with comorbid bipolar disorder and PTN.

Summary

Prazosin is no longer considered a first-line pharmacological intervention for PTN by AASM and VA/DoD. However, in the absence of a suitable alternative, it will likely remain the preferred option of prescribers. IRT and ERRT remain preferred non-pharmacological treatments of PTN. Combining cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) with IRT or ERRT may lead to improved outcomes.

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Correspondence to Scott H. Waltman.

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Scott H. Waltman worked as a consultant and CBT trainer for the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.

David Shearer declares no potential conflicts of interest.

Bret A. Moore reports he is a CME content reviewer for the Neuroscience Education Institute and Series Editor for Routledge Press book series titled “Clinical Topics in Psychology and Psychiatry.”

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Waltman, S.H., Shearer, D. & Moore, B.A. Management of Post-Traumatic Nightmares: a Review of Pharmacologic and Nonpharmacologic Treatments Since 2013. Curr Psychiatry Rep 20, 108 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0971-2

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Keywords

  • Nightmares
  • Trauma
  • Traumatic
  • PTSD
  • Trauma nightmare
  • Prazosin
  • Imagery rehearsal therapy