PTSD and Sleep
Friday, March 8, 2013
problem began on June 6, 1944 — D-Day. Shortly thereafter, he was hospitalized for a “nervous breakdown” for a few months. Since his discharge from the hospital, he had been awakened by a recurrent nightmare every single night. As a result, he developed a fear of falling asleep. I saw him roughly 40 years after D-Day. This time, I asked about his recurring dream. It was that his best friend was blown up on the beach at Normandy and that the bleeding body parts of his friend landed on him, knocking him over. He told me that that is precisely what happened and that he believed that his friend’s body had protected him from the slaughter that was going on all around him. He wanted a pill to block out the nightmares so he could sleep.
Korea. The man came to our clinic because he awoke early every morning and could not get back to sleep. He would get up, go to the bathroom, and when he looked at the mirror he saw the face of a young Korean boy. When I asked him if he recognized the face of the boy, he told me that while he was on patrol in Korea more than 50 years before, he saw in the distance a person that he assumed to be an enemy and shot him. When he went to identify the body and saw the face, he realized that it was a boy, barely 10 years old.
Vietnam. The patient had sleep apnea, a condition in which people stop breathing during sleep. The usual treatment is to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine in which the patient wears a mask connected to a blower that generates the pressure. However, the patient could not wear the mask due to severe claustrophobia that he blamed on his experiences in Vietnam a generation before. He had been in a helicopter on a mission to evacuate some wounded troops. His helicopter was shot down, killing several of his buddies and injuring him. After the helicopter crash-landed, he and his surviving comrades hid in the jungle