Nightmare or Night Terror Do You Know the Difference

A night terror differs from a nightmare and can affect any age group (infants, toddlers, young children, teens and adults) although it is more common in children under 5 years of age.

Nightmares are scary and disturbing dreams referred to as bad dreams that may induce symptoms similar to night terrors. Many sufferers can recall the nightmare and are aware that they had a nightmare upon waking. A nightmare occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep or deep sleep and will usually end immediately upon waking.

Night terrors are a sleep disorder characterized by sudden crying, screaming, sweating, apparent fear and hysteria while asleep. A person experiencing a night terror is not awake and may often go back to sleep without recollecting the events. However a sufferer may awaken and continue to display the symptoms of a night terror for a few minutes after waking. Night terrors often occur in the non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep.

Night terrors or sleep terrors are disorders categorized as a parasomnia. Usually during sleep, the body produces chemicals that cause muscle atonia rendering the body so it cannot move or act out dreams. This is often lacking in a parasomnia disorder where unnatural or abnormal body movements, emotions and behavior may be displayed while asleep. Other parasomnia disorders include sleepwalking disorder and nightmare disorder.

Although night terrors can occur anytime in a persons life span, the most common is reported in children between the ages of three and five. (However more recent studies have turned up showing that many adults as well as children as young as six months experience night terrors on a weekly basis.) Night terrors usually occur fifteen minutes to one hour after going to sleep. I personally experience mine at just about the 45 minute mark. The longer the person is in NREM (the stages before REM) before the night terror strikes, the more petrified they will be when it occurs. Keep in mind though not everyone falls to sleep in the same amount of time as others. This makes a sleep study about the only way of determining what stage of sleep you are in when these events occur.

Night terrors have been shown to appear in stage 4 of sleep. This is just one thing that separates them from nightmares which can occur anytime in sleep. It is possible to make a night terror occur in some people, simply by touching or awakening them during stage 4 of sleep. Why night terrors occur is still a mystery. The mind is supposed to be practically void during the deeper stages of sleep. Most sufferers will awake gasping, moaning, crying but more often screaming.

Some people remember the Night Terror. Some don’t. There is no explanation to why some have no recall of the events during a Night Terror. If a doctor tell you that the fact you remember your night terror means it must not be a night terror, find another doctor.

If you live with someone who suffers from night terrors remeber It is perfectly safe to wake someone who is having a Night Terror but Please be gentle and make sure that there is not anything nearby that they can hurt themselves or others with. The most important thing to remember is that someone having a night terror does not know what they are doing.

Causes of Night Terrors

There are no definitive causes of a night terror although some contributing factors that may be responsible for night terrors include Fevers, Pain, Abuse, Trauma, Fatigue, Narcotics. Some if not all of these should not be dismissed and may require medical attention.

  • A high fever will cause a person to see things perhaps scary things that appear very real to them. Prolonged high fevers can lead to brain damage or death and need to be treated.
  • A person that has been abused or suffered a recent trauma may be reliving the event and should seek professional help to enable them to get past the problem
  • A person suffering from alcohol or drug withdrawals may also be seeing things and have feelings of paranoia and will require medical attention during their initial detox.  


Treatment & Management of Night Terrors

There is no established therapeutic protocol for the treatment of night terror. Treatment should be targeted at possible causes and contributing factors.

  • Establishing a proper sleep routine.
  • Avoid factors that may disturb sleep especially in the initial stages of sleep.
  • Certain classes of antidepressants may provide temporary relief for night terrors. Antidepressants for the treatment of night terrors should be prescribed by a medical doctor after careful assessment and investigation of the condition.
  • Sleeping medication used for the treatment of insomnia should be avoided as they can aggravate the condition.

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  2. […] Nightmare or Night Terror Do You Know the Difference […]

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