Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a chronic and disabling condition. Post-traumatic nightmares (PTNs) form a core component of PTSD and are highly prevalent in this patient population. Nightmares in PTSD have been associated with significant distress, functional impairment, poor health outcomes, and decreased quality of life. Nightmares in PTSD are also an independent risk factor for suicide. Nightmare cessation can lead to improved quality of life, fewer hospital admissions, lower healthcare costs, and reduced all-cause mortality. Effective treatment of nightmares is critical and often leads to improvement of other PTSD symptomatology. However, approved pharmacological agents for the treatment of PTSD have modest effects on sleep and nightmares, and may cause adverse effects. No pharmacological agent has been approved specifically for the treatment of PTNs, but multiple agents have been studied. This current narrative review aimed to critically appraise proven as well as novel pharmacological agents used in the treatment of PTNs. Evidence of varying quality exists for the use of prazosin, doxazosin, clonidine, tricyclic antidepressants, trazodone, mirtazapine, atypical antipsychotics (especially risperidone, olanzapine and quetiapine), gabapentin, topiramate, and cyproheptadine. Evidence does not support the use of venlafaxine, β-blockers, benzodiazepines, or sedative hypnotics. Novel agents such as ramelteon, cannabinoids, ketamine, psychedelic agents, and trihexyphenidyl have shown promising results. Large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are needed to evaluate the use of these novel agents. Future research directions are identified to optimize the treatment of nightmares in patients with PTSD.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.