Night Terrors vs. Nightmares: Understanding the Differences

Two common sleep disorders that can be upsetting and interfere with a person’s ability to sleep are nightmares & night terrors. Despite their apparent similarities, it’s critical to recognize the differences between the two in order to treat & manage these conditions appropriately. Parasomnias are abnormal behaviors or experiences that happen during sleep, & both nightmares and night terrors fall into this category. Their traits, underlying causes, and modes of treatment, however, are different.

Key Takeaways

  • Night terrors are episodes of intense fear and panic that occur during sleep.
  • They are caused by disruptions in the sleep cycle and can be triggered by stress, anxiety, or sleep deprivation.
  • Symptoms of night terrors include screaming, sweating, and rapid heart rate, and they can last for several minutes.
  • To deal with night terrors, it is important to establish a regular sleep routine and reduce stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques.
  • Nightmares are vivid and disturbing dreams that can cause fear, anxiety, and distress.
  • They are often caused by stress, trauma, or anxiety disorders.
  • Symptoms of nightmares include vivid and disturbing dreams, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety.
  • To deal with nightmares, it is important to address the underlying causes and seek professional help if necessary.
  • The main difference between night terrors and nightmares is that night terrors occur during non-REM sleep and are not remembered, while nightmares occur during REM sleep and are often remembered.

Extreme fear or terror attacks that happen while you’re sleeping are called “night terrors,” or “sleep terrors.”. They can last anywhere from a few minutes to thirty minutes and usually occur in the early hours of sleep. A person experiencing a night terror is typically not aware of their surroundings, unlike someone experiencing a nightmare. Night terrors can be caused by a number of things. Given that night terrors typically run in families, genetic factors are involved. Night terrors can also be more likely to occur in those who are sleep deprived, highly stressed, or anxious.

Some people may also experience night terrors when taking certain medications, such as those for allergies or ADHD. A person may experience a variety of symptoms during a night terror episode. They might shout or scream, usually out of fear or panic. During night terrors, sweating and a fast heartbeat are also typical symptoms.

It’s possible that the person will look lost or confused & won’t recognize or react to attempts at consoling them. Although it is not common, physical aggression can happen in certain situations. There are a few techniques that can help control and lessen the frequency of night terrors if you or someone you know is experiencing them.

Term Definition Frequency
Night Terrors Episodes of intense fear and panic during sleep, often accompanied by screaming, sweating, and rapid heart rate 1-6% of children
Nightmares Disturbing dreams that cause feelings of fear, anxiety, or sadness, often waking the person up from sleep 50-85% of adults
Causes Night terrors are often caused by sleep deprivation, stress, or genetics, while nightmares can be caused by anxiety, trauma, or medication N/A
Treatment Night terrors usually resolve on their own, but can be managed with good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques. Nightmares can be treated with therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes N/A

It can be helpful to establish a relaxing bedtime routine because it signals the body that it is time to unwind and get ready for sleep. This can involve engaging in relaxing activities like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or practicing yoga. Managing night terrors also requires lowering stress and anxiety levels. A more restful sleep can be encouraged by partaking in stress-relieving activities like exercise, meditation, or deep breathing techniques.

You may need to seek medical attention if your night terrors become more frequent and cause a major disruption to your daily life. A medical expert can offer additional direction and suggest suitable measures, like medication or counseling. In contrast, nightmares are vivid, unsettling dreams that can evoke strong feelings of fear, anxiety, or melancholy.

Nightmares, in contrast to night terrors, happen during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep, which is when most dreams happen. This indicates that when the person having the nightmare wakes up, they frequently remember the specifics of the dream. Numerous things can give rise to nightmares. The occurrence of nightmares can be attributed to anxiety, depression, & trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The chance of having nightmares can also be increased by taking certain medications, such as those for depression or high blood pressure.

Sleep disturbances like restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea can also cause nightmares by interfering with normal sleep. One may feel extreme terror or fear during a nightmare. A racing heartbeat, sweating, or anxiety are possible wake-up sensations. Resuming sleep can be challenging because the person might be scared of having another nightmare. A person who has had a nightmare may also wake up feeling nervous or depressed.

There are a few techniques that can help control and lessen the frequency of nightmares if they are upsetting you and affecting the quality of your sleep. It can be useful to recognize and stay away from triggers. This could be limiting what you eat or drink before bed, setting up a peaceful and cozy sleeping space, or avoiding media or content that could be upsetting or trigger-worthy. To address the underlying causes of nightmares, seeking therapy or counseling can be helpful as well.

Therapists can assist people in processing and overcoming trauma, anxiety, or depression—conditions that may be aggravating their nightmares. Also, you can lessen the chance of having nightmares and encourage a more restful sleep by using relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing. In conclusion, there are a few major distinctions between nightmares & night terrors.

Though nightmares happen during REM sleep and are vivid, unsettling dreams, night terrors happen during non-REM sleep and are not dreams. Intense fear, bewilderment, and physical aggression are common characteristics of night terrors, whereas intense fear, trouble falling back asleep, and depressive or anxious feelings when awakened are hallmarks of nightmares. If night terror or nightmare symptoms worsen daily functioning & are persistent, it’s critical to seek medical attention. A qualified medical practitioner can offer an accurate diagnosis and suggest suitable courses of action, such as medication, counseling, or lifestyle modifications.

In summary, there are two different types of sleep disturbances that can interrupt a person’s sleep and cause distress: nightmares and night terrors. To appropriately treat and manage these conditions, it is essential to recognize the distinction between the two. Not to be confused with nightmares, which are vivid, unsettling dreams that happen during REM sleep, night terrors are episodes of extreme fear or terror that happen while asleep.

Numerous things can contribute to night terrors & nightmares, such as genetics, lack of sleep, stress and anxiety, anxiety-inducing drugs, PTSD or trauma, anxiety & depression, and sleep disorders. Establishing a peaceful nighttime routine, lowering stress and anxiety, recognizing & avoiding triggers, getting therapy or counseling, and engaging in relaxation exercises are all part of managing these conditions. It’s critical to seek medical assistance if night terror or nightmare symptoms worsen daily functioning and do not go away. A medical specialist is qualified to make an accurate diagnosis and suggest the best course of action. Recall that you are not required to endure silent suffering. Seeking assistance is a sign of strength & self-care because it is readily available.

If you’re interested in learning more about the difference between night terrors and nightmares, you may also want to check out this informative article on Truvva’s website. It explores the various causes and symptoms of these sleep disturbances and offers helpful tips on how to manage them effectively. Understanding the distinction between night terrors and nightmares can provide valuable insights into improving your sleep quality and overall well-being. To read the article, click here: Difference between Night Terrors and Nightmares.


What are night terrors?

Night terrors are a type of sleep disorder that causes a person to suddenly wake up in a state of extreme fear or panic. They usually occur during the first few hours of sleep and can last for several minutes.

What are nightmares?

Nightmares are also a type of sleep disorder that causes a person to have vivid and disturbing dreams that often wake them up. They can occur at any time during the night and can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, and distress.

What are the main differences between night terrors and nightmares?

The main difference between night terrors and nightmares is that night terrors occur during the non-REM stage of sleep, while nightmares occur during the REM stage of sleep. Night terrors also tend to cause more physical symptoms, such as sweating, rapid heart rate, and screaming, while nightmares are more likely to cause emotional distress.

What causes night terrors and nightmares?

The exact causes of night terrors and nightmares are not fully understood, but they are believed to be related to a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and certain medications.

How are night terrors and nightmares treated?

Treatment for night terrors and nightmares may include lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep hygiene and reducing stress, as well as medication and therapy. In some cases, a combination of these approaches may be necessary to effectively manage symptoms.

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