News Release

Study links PTSD nightmares among veterans to suicide attempts

Screening for trauma-related nightmares is a strategy for early intervention

Meeting Announcement

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

DARIEN, IL – A recent study found that nightmares linked to a specific traumatic event in veterans are significantly associated with suicide reattempts.


Researchers analyzed data from more than 3,200 veterans with a documented suicide attempt and diagnosis of one of three types of nightmares: idiopathic nightmares of unknown origin; trauma-related nightmares with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder; or complex nightmares, accompanied by diagnoses of PTSD and a sleep-related breathing disorder. Of the three nightmare types, only trauma-related nightmares were positively associated with suicide reattempts.


“One possible explanation for these findings may be the influence of the actual dream content,” said principal investigator Todd Bishop, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a researcher and health science specialist at the VA Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention. “Previous research depicts trauma-related nightmares as having content that is very similar to the original trauma, whereas complex nightmares can have varying types of dream content, often times not directly related to the trauma. Thus, it is possible that the dream content of the nightmare is a driving factor for the observed differences.”


Researchers also found that complex nightmares and trauma-related nightmares were significantly associated with mental health care utilization. Investigators believe this could help providers refine their treatments for veterans experiencing nightmares.


“Complex nightmares and trauma-related nightmares have been traditionally treated as the same phenomenon; however, if they are in fact different, they may need to be treated with different interventions,” explained Bishop. “For example, some of the most common treatments for nightmares related to PTSD are prazosin and rescripting psychotherapies such as exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy. In contrast, if complex nightmares are more closely related to sleep-disordered breathing than PTSD, then treatment approaches designed to target trauma-related nightmares may be less effective.”


Bishop’s study was supported by the VA Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention in the Finger Lakes Healthcare System. The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented June 7 during SLEEP 2022. SLEEP is the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.




Abstract Title: Nightmare type and its association with suicide attempts among veterans

Abstract ID: 0671

Poster Presentation Date: Tuesday, June 7, 5:15-7:15 p.m., Board 267

Presenter: Todd Bishop, PhD


For a copy of the abstract or to arrange an interview with the study author or an AASM spokesperson, email


About the American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Established in 1975, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is advancing sleep care and enhancing sleep health to improve lives. The AASM has a combined membership of 11,000 accredited member sleep centers and individual members, including physicians, scientists and other health care professionals (


About the Sleep Research Society

The Sleep Research Society is a professional membership society that advances sleep and circadian science. The SRS provides forums for the exchange of information, establishes and maintains standards of reporting and classifies data in the field of sleep research, and collaborates with other organizations to foster scientific investigation on sleep and its disorders. The SRS also publishes the peer-reviewed, scientific journals Sleep and Sleep Advances (



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