Home Things Night Terrors Vs. Nightmares – What’s the Difference?

Night Terrors Vs. Nightmares – What’s the Difference?

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Disturbances in a person’s sleep cycle can make or break that following day’s total mood. There are many things that can cause you not to sleep well at night, but one of the worst is having a scary dream. These could either be identified as a night terror or a nightmare, and both can be dreadful. To help identify what is happening to you or your loved one during the night, we have broken down what both a night terror and nightmare may look like.

What is a Night Terror?

A night terror typically occurs in the first few hours of sleep, when the person is in the deep sleep cycle. Night terrors are less common than nightmares. They are much more common in children. Night terrors can also be hereditary. When a person has a night terror, they may not be able to wake themselves up. The person may become agitated and look as if they are in a panic. They also could seem like they are awake, with eyes open and even potentially getting up and walking.

It is best not to try to suddenly wake someone having a night terror. They may wake up disoriented and confused. As frightening as a night terror might be, it is better to try to provide them with some comfort so they can gradually wake up. Try to guide them back to bed and talk softly to them, using both comforting words and a comforting tone.

As they calm down, they may either wake up fully, or simply fall back to sleep. In many cases, the person having the night terror will have no memory of the event in the morning. Night terrors will normally go away on their own, but if they do not once the person reaches puberty, it is best to seek professional help.

What is a Nightmare?

Nightmares most typically occur during either late into the night or earlier in the morning, during the lightest sleep cycle. A nightmare can be remembered when the person wakes up, either the next morning or even right after it occurs. Since light sleep is when a person dreams, they can remember their nightmares as well. People of all ages dream, which means anyone can have a nightmare.

In general, a person who is having a nightmare won’t be thrashing around in bed, and unless they are prone to sleep walking in general, they won’t get up and move around. Many people do, however, moan or make other noises during a nightmare. If you happen to hear them, you can help them emerge from the nightmare by gently rubbing their back or talking to them, so they begin to wake up. Since nightmares generally happen during the lighter cycles of sleep, it will almost always be easier to wake someone from a nightmare than a night terror.

What to Do to Help Avoid These Events

If nightmares and night terrors are continuing to occur every night for weeks at a time, seek help from a doctor or pediatrician to help get your children back on sleeping track. Having sleep disrupted can cause problems during the day, so it is important to be sure you and your children get the best sleep possible. Make sure your child has a calm, relaxing bedtime routine every night. Reading books, using calming lavender lotion, taking relaxing baths, and other things can calm your children before they tuck in for the night.

It is often possible to identify triggers that can cause a nightmare or night terror. Some obvious ones might be watching a scary movie or reading a scary book just before bed. Since dreams (including scary dreams) don’t always make sense, however, they can also be caused by things during the day that you wouldn’t consider scary. Try to keep a journal of what took place in the day or two prior to a scary dream to see if you can pinpoint the cause.

In the vast majority of cases, nightmares and night terrors will be either one-time events, or very sporadic. If this is becoming a common occurrence, talking to a sleep therapist or other professional is the best way to figure out how to end these scary experiences.