ZocdocAnswersWhat is the difference between nightmares and night terrors?

Question

What is the difference between nightmares and night terrors?

I've been waking up scared and sweaty the last few years, on and off. Is this night terrors or just bad dreams/nightmares? Are night terrors a problem with your brain or a psychological disorder or something?

Answer

Sorry to hear that you have been waking up scared for a few years now. Hopefully I can give you some good information on the difference between nightmares and night terrors, and point you in the correct direction to make an appointment with someone who can help. Nightmares are basically bad dreams that happen in some people resulting in a feeling of horror or fear. Often times the individual will have a strong negative emotional response, and will awaken in a state of distress. Nightmares are typically remembered at least partially by the individual, and tend to be recurrent. Night terrors are a different problem altogether. Night terrors typically affect children and are an actual parasomnia disorder (partial arousals during the transitions between wakefulness and NREM sleep, or wakefulness and REM sleep) that give the individual a feeling of terror or dread. Classically with night terrors a child will sit up abruptly during sleep and scream with their eyes open, but have no conscious awareness of what is going on. They can be quite difficult to arouse from this state, and typically have no recollection of it the next day. I am not sure if you live alone, or if you have someone that can comment on whether you have symptoms that fit more with nightmares than night terrors, but if this continues I would recommend making an appointment to speak with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a sleep specialist to help improve your "sleep health". Your primary care physician may be a good place to start as they will like be able to refer you to someone if needed. Best of luck.

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