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Difference between Night Terrors and Nightmares

Difference between Night Terrors and Nightmares

It is common to have night terrors and nightmares. We have both in our lifetime. The difference between these two has to do with the frequency of occurrence. Some people experience them once, while others can have recurring episodes as often as every few days. Both night tricks and nightmares are characterized by intense episodes of sleep terror or anxiety that occur during the transition between sleep stages 1 and 2, characterized by an inability to relax muscles, known as hypnic jerking or hypnic muscle syndrome. Night terrors are more frequent than nightmares and appear especially during the first year of life.

The cause is not completely understood, but some studies suggest that it may be linked to a genetic predisposition and a variety of childhood traumas (e.g., witnessing a violent act). It can be very frightening for adults who experience these episodes but should not be seen as something dangerous since they are not accompanied by any physical injury or harm.

What are Night Terrors?

  • Night terrors are characterized by intense fear, usually occurring at the night. The causes can be varied and can include stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and other conditions. Night terrors generally begin suddenly but may build over time until they reach a peak of intensity.
  • In some cases, night terrors are preceded by a period of sleepwalking or arousals from sleep. These episodes typically last 15 minutes to two hours and may occur only once or twice. They are often frightening and may involve screaming, panic attacks, crying, or other symptoms. In some cases, they can cause damage to the person’s teeth or jaw. As the child grows older, the episodes tend to become less intense and happen less frequently. Many children outgrow them by age 10 or 11.
  • Night terrors are not always associated with any underlying problems and usually do not last long. However, when they occur at night and wake the child up from a deep sleep, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

What are Nightmares?

  • Nightmares are the most common type of sleep disorder, affecting 40-50% of children. They can be severe and disruptive, and some children will wake up screaming and crying. Nightmares can be very frightening and cause kids to feel very anxious or scared. They may even have a hard time falling back to sleep after they wake up from a bad dream.
  • One way to think of a nightmare is that it is a vivid dream that causes intense fear and distress. Often, they are scary dreams that involve monsters, frightening animals, or other scary images. A nightmare can also be more like an anxious dream in which the person feels very anxious or afraid during the dream, but isn’t actually being pursued by scary animals in reality.
  • Other types of dreams can also cause nightmares, such as dreams about falling or flying. Nightmares are usually not dangerous for children unless they are having a seizure, breathing problems, or other medical problems that keep them from waking up if they become scared during the dream. Night terrors (see below) are another type of nightmare.
  • No matter what the cause, nightmares can cause a lot of worry and stress for children, their parents, and their caregivers. It is important to try to find out what is causing the child’s nightmares so that you can work together to solve the problem.

Difference between Night Terrors and Nightmares

  • A nightmare is a frightening dream, while a night terror is characterized by sudden and intense episodes of sleep that are sometimes accompanied by screaming or crying. These episodes usually last for less than one hour and can occur during the night, day, or both.
  • In contrast to nightmares, night terrors tend to be shorter in duration (generally 30 minutes or less) and they’re not usually accompanied by other symptoms such as sweating, chills, or rapid breathing.
  • Night terrors also tend to be more common in children than in adults. Night terrors may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition (such as sleep apnea) that needs to be investigated further.
  • Night terrors can be distressing for children and their parents but they aren’t dangerous, and there are ways you can help your child cope with the episode.

Causes of Night Terrors and Nightmares

Night terrors and nightmares are a normal part of childhood. They are caused by a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral factors. Night terrors are characterized by sudden, unexpected bouts of intense fear and crying that wake both the child and the parent up. The fear is short-lived and is usually over within a few minutes. Nightmares, on the other hand, are characterized by recurring, vivid images or feelings that may be scary or distressing. Most children experience nightmares at some point during their lives.

Some researchers believe that nightmares may be more common in children with certain medical conditions like epilepsy or sleep apnea. People who have experienced trauma early in life may also have trouble sleeping, which could lead to nightmares. Nightmares in these cases may be linked to hyperarousal and a state of high arousal (fight or flight) which may be traumatic for the person due to their current circumstances.
Nightmares can also be triggered by trauma such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, etc.


Night terrors are a common sleep disorder that can occur at any age and in any setting. People who have night terrors will experience a waking dream or nightmare (the most common type of dream). Night terrors generally last for 3-5 minutes and are characterized by feelings of fear, terror, and impending doom.

  • The episodes can be triggered by any situation that is associated with a potential threat such as noises, darkness, illness, or movement.
  • Night terrors can be a symptom of other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or other neurological condition.
  • If you are concerned about a child with night terrors, you should know that most children outgrow these types of sleep disturbances by the time they are school-aged.
  • Night terrors are different from nightmares in that the person experiencing these types of dreams doesn’t usually remember the dreams.
  • Nightmares are more common in children and often result from frightening dreams. Nightmares are characterized by a sense of urgency and the dreamer typically wakes up from a nightmare feeling very anxious or stressed.

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