10 Differences Between nightmares and night terrors

The Difference Between Nightmares and Night Terrors

Have you ever woken up from a terrifying dream or experienced overwhelming fear during sleep? Understanding the difference between nightmares and night terrors can help shed light on these unsettling experiences. In this article, we will explore the definitions, examples, uses, and key differences between nightmares and night terrors.

What are Nightmares?

Nightmares are distressing and vivid dreams that occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stage. They often involve intense emotions, fear, or anxiety and can awaken an individual. Nightmares are relatively common and can be triggered by various factors, such as stress, trauma, medication, or sleep disorders.

Examples of Nightmares:

1. Being chased by a monster in a dark forest.
2. Falling from a great height with no control.
3. Witnessing the death of a loved one in a traumatic event.
4. Feeling trapped in a confined space with no escape.

Uses of Nightmares:

Nightmares can serve as a reflection of our subconscious mind or act as a warning signal for potential problems in our waking life. They can also be used metaphorically to represent fears or anxieties that need to be addressed and resolved.

What are Night Terrors?

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are episodes of intense fear, panic, or terror that occur during deep non-REM sleep. Unlike nightmares, night terrors do not involve dreams and are often not recalled upon awakening. Night terrors primarily affect children and can last from a few seconds up to several minutes.

Examples of Night Terrors:

1. Waking up screaming or with a look of terror on the face.
2. Sitting up suddenly in bed with rapid breathing.
3. Sweating profusely and exhibiting signs of extreme fear or distress.

Uses of Night Terrors:

The exact purpose or use of night terrors is not fully understood. However, they are believed to be linked to the immaturity or over-arousal of the central nervous system in children, and often, they tend to diminish as the child grows older.

Differences between Nightmares and Night Terrors:

Difference Area Nightmares Night Terrors
Sleep Stage Occurs during REM sleep Occurs during non-REM sleep
Recollection Usually remembered upon awakening Not typically recalled
Emotion Anxiety, fear, or stress Terror, extreme fear, or panic
Duration Shorter, often a few minutes Can last for several minutes
Dream Involvement Characterized by distressing dreams Do not involve dreams
Age Group Can occur in any age group Primarily affects children
Frequency Can occur frequently or sporadically Usually sporadic episodes
Physical Manifestation No significant physical activity Sitting up suddenly, screaming, sweating
Timing Often towards the end of sleep Early in the night during non-REM sleep
Arousal Level Can cause moderate arousal Intense arousal or panic


In summary, nightmares and night terrors are distinct sleep disturbances. Nightmares occur during REM sleep, involve distressing dreams, and are remembered upon waking. On the other hand, night terrors occur during deep non-REM sleep, do not involve dreams, and are usually not recalled. Nightmares can affect any age group, while night terrors are most common in children. Understanding these differences can help individuals and parents differentiate between the two phenomena.

People Also Ask:

Q1: Can nightmares and night terrors be prevented?

A1: While it may not be possible to completely prevent nightmares or night terrors, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, reducing stress, and creating a calm sleep environment can help minimize their occurrence.

Q2: Should I wake someone up during a nightmare or night terror episode?

A2: It is generally advised to comfort and reassure someone experiencing a nightmare. However, waking up an individual during a night terror episode may lead to confusion and disorientation. It is best to calmly observe and ensure their safety during the event.

Q3: Are nightmares and night terrors related to mental health conditions?

A3: Nightmares can sometimes be associated with mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. Night terrors, however, are typically considered a normal phenomenon in children and are not directly linked to mental health conditions.

Q4: Can nightmares or night terrors be treated?

A4: In many cases, nightmares and night terrors do not require specific treatment. However, if these sleep disturbances significantly impact daily functioning or persist over a prolonged period, consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist can be beneficial.

Q5: Are nightmares and night terrors hereditary?

A5: There may be a genetic component that predisposes individuals to nightmares or night terrors. If a family member has experienced these sleep disturbances, there may be a higher likelihood of others in the family experiencing them as well.

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