The Differences Between Nightmares and Night Terrors

Carol RoachStarred Page By Carol Roach, 6th Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Mind & Spirit>Sleep

Conditions that affect sleep, our health, and mental health include such topics as nightmares and night terrors.

A nightmare is not a night terror

Contrary to popular belief nightmares and night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are not the same thing. The symptoms may sound the same, but they actually occur during different phases of the sleep cycle.

Differences between nightmares and night terrors

Symptoms of nightmares and night terrors

Nightmares occur during rem sleep or the dream stage of sleep, while night terrors occur during the 4th stage of the non-dream sleep cycle.

The sleep terrors occurs about an hour after an adult has gone to sleep.

Young children will generally have a night terror about 90 minutes into the sleeping process. Night terrors are most common in young children who are between the ages of three to six but adults can have night terrors as well.

Symptoms of night terrors in adults

The symptoms of night terrors include: rapid heart rate, sweating, screaming, kicking, thrashing, sweating, wide-eyed staring, vague images of scary things in the room, spiders, snakes, and other frightening shadows and images. The sleeper may also get a sense that someone is in the room, yet they are not fully awake Since they are wide-eyed, dreamers are often mistaken for being awake.

Dreamers are not easily woken from the night terror either.. They are very scared and anxious during a night terror and are not easily comforted by a love one even afterward. Sufferers of night terrors have difficulty explaining the images and do not remember them the following day. However, they can remember parts of their dreams that night

People who have nightmares usually remember their nightmares the following day.

Children may talk in their sleep, sleepwalk, cry, and trash around. A night terror lasts about a minute or two, but it often requires a good thirty minutes or so for the victim of the night terrors to calm down afterward.
Causes for night terrors

There seems to be a hereditary component when night terrors occur in children.

Causes for night terrors in adults

There is a link to mental disorders in adults including; depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety related disorders.

Sleep terrors are also linked to head injury, obstructive sleep apnea sleep deprivation, certain medications, alcohol or drug abuse, stressful life events, eating a heavy meal before retiring ,and fever.


If you are experiencing chronic sleep terrors, it is best to talk to your doctor, who will surely get down to the bottom of the problem. Your doctor may do several tests such as an electroencephalogram, (EEG), measuring brain activity, and a polysomnogram. Your doctor may also suggest a sleep study, where you stay overnight. The technicians will then chart your brain waves, breathing and heartbeat, while you are sleeping.

Your doctor may caution you to get in enough sleep, stop eating before bedtime, and review your medication. Your doctor will inform you to take away any dangerous objects that you may injure yourself with during the episodes. Finally if the sleep terrors are due to anxiety or mental illness your doctor will refer you to a psychiatrist, or a psychologist as well.

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Nightmares and bad Dreams

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author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

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author avatar snerfu
6th Sep 2015 (#)

Cannot think of what I would do without sleep; do most of my writing then. Many readers complained of terror after reading my articles.
On a serious note, Carol, sleep does seem to have its share of terror. After all, everyone is afraid of the dark and we sleep in the dark. Is there a connection you think?

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author avatar Carol Roach
6th Sep 2015 (#)

there is a connection, we often dream about what scares us, or what we have experienced, the closest connection as you know is watching a scary movie and then having a scary dream

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author avatar Papa Joe
6th Sep 2015 (#)

I would say the spirit is not at rest with the spiritual realm. Unfortunate as it is, it also causes a lot of other intensities which no one can decipher unless they say their peace with the One Above. Not that they are forgiven but they come to terms with it. Your personal experience I take it??

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author avatar Carol Roach
6th Sep 2015 (#)

no not my personal experience, I am doing a medical series on dreams and sleeping problems

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author avatar Retired
10th Sep 2015 (#)

Logical analysis. Beautifully written as well.

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