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"How can you tell the difference between night terrors and just bad dreams?"

ZocdocAnswersHow can you tell the difference between night terrors and just bad dreams?


Sometimes when I'm sleeping I wake up absolutely terrified, but it is almost like I can't wake up all the way. Sometimes I can't move too. Is this night terrors or am I just having bad dreams or sleeping poorly?


I don't think this is night terrors. Night terrors are specifically a disruption in the non-dreaming portion of sleep, and they are characterized by abrupt and dramatic arousals in which the person who is suffering from the night terrors often appears very confused and often terrified. Importantly, however, the person who is suffering from these doesn't have any awareness of what is going on and they will fall back asleep uneventfully and awake without any memory of the event. Night terrors are more common in children. I think it is more likely that what you are describing is sleep paralysis. In sleep paralysis, people experience awakenings while still having some of the neurological apparatus of dream state sleep engaged. In particular, during dream (REM) sleep, the muscles are in a very relaxed state, and so people who have sleep paralysis have the sensation that they cannot move. This can obviously be very terrifying, and it is worsened by the fact that sleep paralysis also is often couple to transient hallucinations. Many people who have sleep paralysis also have symptoms of narcolepsy, so the first step is to be evaluated by your primary care doctor for that condition, which can be treated with medications.

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