Nightmares and Night Terrors. What's the Difference?

One of the more common misconceptions is that night terrors and nightmares are the same things. This is not true. They are in fact, incredibly different. A nightmare happens when you're deep in sleep, in the REM cycle and yes, you can wake up screaming but usually, you'll be able to remember the whole dream or at least a part of it. When you wake up from a nightmare you are completely awake. A night terror is the exact opposite. You don't remember your dream, you are not fully awake when you wake up, and you can have a full-on panic attack during a night terror.

Night terrors very often occur with kids

Children are such efficient sleepers they get 'stuck' in sleep. Their body wakes up but their mind is still fast asleep. If you're the parent of a child who suffers from night terrors, it can get really scary. Not only can it be dangerous, the child might throw punches and kicks, but seeing your child screaming and shouting can be extremely intense.


But there are a few ways to help a child with night terrors

Night terrors usually return around the same time every night, a couple of hours after the child has fallen asleep. If you're the parent or elder sibling you can go into the child's bedroom and gently wake them up. Once awake, the child can fall asleep quite quickly and the probability of them having a night terror will have been avoided.


Night terrors can also impact adults

Even adults who never had night terrors as a child can suffer later on in life. And as an adult, the experience can be even more intense. Mature adults will usually have a partner or a spouse and this can make matters much worse. It can be very unpleasant and frightening for someone to wake up and find the person sleeping next to them suddenly wailing and flailing violently around.


The reason why some people have night terrors is still largely unknown

Scientists know exactly why we have nightmares. They are triggered by stress or medication or even spicy food, and if you avoid these things then you probably won't have nightmares. Those same scientists have also carried out countless sleep studies on people who have night terrors and have done everything they can to find out exactly why they happen, and they've only come up with a few unsatisfying answers. These answers usually involve explanations about anxiety disorders or PTSD etc. Of course, there are ways to control night terrors with therapy or medication, but it's still very scary when they happen.


Night terrors usually occur in deep sleep

Night terrors are most likely to happen fairly early in the evening, during what is known as the deep sleep phases three and four. Research suggests that something in the memory processing of deep sleep sets off the amygdala, (that part of the brain responsible for memory, emotions and survival instincts), producing strong fear and sufficient emotional energy to make an affected person cry out in terror. It can be difficult to rouse the sleeper at this point because deep sleep is not receptive to outside sensations. The terrors typically abate within ten to twenty minutes and peaceful sleep returns. Normally, the person awakes in the morning with no obvious signs of harm.


In most cases, night terrors are accompanied by sleepwalking

A lot of parents have reported children wandering the house in a state of panic, and some scientists believe that night terror is really a form of sleepwalking. When we sleep our brains suppress motor activity, i.e. our ability to move. If you've ever woken up from a deep sleep and realised you can hardly move, that's normal. Mother nature normally keeps us very calm and immobilized when we dream. During a night terror, however, those inhibitions are no longer present. This is why people who are in the midst of a night terror can talk, scream, thrash about and actually get out of bed and move around.


The best way to react to a night terror is to ignore it

This is of course, easier said than done. Night terrors can be very upsetting for the partners or parents and siblings of the sufferer. Some kind of restraints may be necessary in certain severe cases, but if the person does not show signs of harming themselves or others then all that should be done is to watch and wait for them to fall safely back to sleep.


Remember, night terrors are not nightmares

If your child has a nightmare you can comfort them, help them feel safe and tell them it was all a dream. Then you can put them back to bed. But your child is not going to remember a night terror so there's no point talking about it the next morning. In fact, if your loved one is plagued by the night terrors, you're better off reassuring yourself that they are a normal part of your child growing up. They come in groups or clusters. If they are frequent and long-term there are some medications that can make a difference, but for the most part, the night terrors are transient.


Night terrors in the general population

Boys and girls of all backgrounds can be equally affected by night terrors. They occur in about 1% to 6% of children and in 1% of adults. Terrors usually begin at the age of 3 to 12 and usually go away gradually when growing up. For adults, the most common ages for experiencing night terrors is between 20 and 30-years old.


Some cures for night terrors in adults

To find a remedy for night terrors in adults it helps to find out what could be causing them and then eliminating that cause. Prescription drugs might be one source of night terrors. Talk to your doctor about changing them or modifying the dosage. If stress is the cause then try sprinkling lavender oil on the pillow. Studies show that lavender greatly improves the quality of sleep in insomniacs, helping them fall asleep faster and to sleep more soundly. Also, a healthy diet plays a huge role in getting a good night's sleep, and may actually help in keeping the night terrors at bay.







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