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What is the difference between a nightmare and a night terror?

Nightmares and night terrors are both sleep disturbances that can affect individuals of all ages. While they may seem similar at first, there are distinct differences between the two that set them apart. Understanding these differences can help individuals and their loved ones better cope with and address these sleep-related issues.


Nightmares are vivid and often disturbing dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a stage of sleep characterized by increased brain activity. They can cause intense emotions such as fear, anxiety, or sadness, and may sometimes wake a person up from their sleep. Nightmares usually occur during the second half of the night, and the individual can usually recall the details of the dream upon waking up.

One of the defining characteristics of nightmares is their content. They often involve realistic scenarios that may tap into an individual’s fears, anxieties, or traumatic experiences. For example, someone who has a fear of heights may have a nightmare about falling from a great height. Nightmares can be triggered by various factors, including stress, trauma, certain medications, or sleep disorders.

Key points about nightmares:

  1. They occur during REM sleep.
  2. They evoke intense emotions like fear or anxiety.
  3. They usually happen in the second half of the night.
  4. People can recall the details of their nightmares.

Night Terrors

Night terrors, on the other hand, are a type of sleep disorder characterized by episodes of sudden and intense fear or agitation during sleep. Unlike nightmares, night terrors occur during non-REM sleep, specifically during deep sleep stages. They typically happen within the first few hours of falling asleep and can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

During a night terror, the individual may appear to be awake, but they are actually still asleep and unaware of their surroundings. They may display physical symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and sweating. In some cases, the person may also scream or thrash around violently. However, upon awakening, they often have no memory of the episode.

Key points about night terrors:

  1. They occur during non-REM sleep.
  2. They cause sudden and intense fear or agitation.
  3. They happen within the first few hours of falling asleep.
  4. The person may show physical symptoms during the episode.

Night terrors are often more distressing for the people witnessing them rather than for the person experiencing them.


In summary, nightmares and night terrors are distinct phenomena that differ in terms of when they occur during sleep, the emotions they evoke, and the level of awareness the individual has during the episode. Nightmares are vivid dreams that occur during REM sleep and can be remembered upon waking up, while night terrors are episodes of intense fear or agitation that occur during non-REM sleep and often leave the person with no memory of the event.

It is important to note that both nightmares and night terrors can be disruptive to a person’s sleep and overall well-being. If you or someone you know is experiencing frequent or severe sleep disturbances, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional who can provide guidance and support.

What Kind of Trauma Causes Night Terrors?


Night terrors are a type of sleep disorder that can be quite distressing for both children and adults alike. While nightmares are more common and often caused by stress or anxiety, night terrors are different and can be linked to trauma. Let’s explore the kind of trauma that can cause night terrors and how it impacts individuals.

The Relationship Between Trauma and Night Terrors

Trauma can have a profound impact on our mental and emotional well-being. When individuals experience a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse, accidents, or witnessing violence, it can lead to night terrors. These intense episodes of fear during sleep can be triggered by memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event, resulting in heightened anxiety and distress.

Childhood Trauma and Night Terrors

Children who have experienced trauma, such as neglect, abuse, or a significant loss, are more likely to develop night terrors. This is because their developing brains may struggle to process and cope with the traumatic experiences, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and night terrors. It’s crucial for parents and caregivers to provide a safe and nurturing environment to help children navigate through these challenging experiences.

Impact on Mental Health

Night terrors caused by trauma can significantly impact an individual’s mental health. The constant fear and anxiety associated with these episodes can result in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, or depression. Seeking professional help from therapists or counselors who specialize in trauma can greatly aid in the healing process.

Treatment and Coping Strategies

When dealing with night terrors caused by trauma, it’s important to seek appropriate treatment. Therapy, specifically trauma-focused therapies like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can help individuals process their traumatic experiences and reduce the occurrence of night terrors.

Coping strategies, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a calming bedtime routine, and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, can also be beneficial in managing night terrors.

What Causes Night Terrors in Adults UK?


Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are intense episodes of fear or terror that occur during sleep. While night terrors are more commonly associated with children, they can also affect adults in the UK. Understanding the possible causes of night terrors is essential for those experiencing these unsettling episodes.

Possible Causes of Night Terrors

1. Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can trigger night terrors in adults. The pressures of modern life, work, or personal issues can contribute to the development of these sleep disturbances.

2. Sleep Deprivation: Lack of quality sleep or disrupted sleep patterns can increase the likelihood of experiencing night terrors. Sleep deprivation may be caused by various factors, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or working night shifts.

3. Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Excessive consumption of alcohol or the use of certain substances can disrupt normal sleep patterns and contribute to the occurrence of night terrors.

4. Medication Side Effects: Some medications, particularly those used to treat psychiatric disorders, may have side effects that include night terrors. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect medication is causing your night terrors.

5. Underlying Mental Health Conditions: Adults with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to night terrors.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you are experiencing regular night terrors, it is advisable to consult a medical professional who can evaluate your symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis. Treatment options may vary depending on the underlying cause but can include:

  • Stress reduction techniques and therapy
  • Sleep hygiene practices
  • Medications, if necessary

Prevention Tips

To reduce the occurrence of night terrors, consider implementing these preventative measures:

  1. Establish a regular sleep schedule
  2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  3. Avoid stressful situations close to bedtime
  4. Limit alcohol and substance consumption
  5. Maintain a comfortable sleep environment

Are Night Terrors Related to Anxiety?

Night terrors are episodes of intense fear and distress that occur during sleep, usually in children aged between 3 and 12 years old. These episodes can be extremely alarming for both the child experiencing them and their parents. While night terrors may seem similar to nightmares, they are different in terms of their causes and manifestations. One common question that arises is whether night terrors are related to anxiety.

Understanding Night Terrors

Night terrors typically occur during non-REM sleep, which is why the child remains asleep and often has no memory of the episode. Unlike nightmares, night terrors involve sudden awakenings accompanied by intense fear and physical symptoms such as rapid breathing, sweating, and increased heart rate. Anxiety, on the other hand, is characterized by persistent worry, apprehension, and fearfulness in situations that are not inherently dangerous.

The Relationship with Anxiety

While night terrors and anxiety are distinct conditions, there can be some overlap. It is not uncommon for children who experience night terrors to also have anxiety disorders or exhibit anxious behaviors during waking hours. However, it is essential to note that night terrors themselves do not directly cause anxiety.

The Role of Sleep Disorders

Research suggests that night terrors may be linked to sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, rather than anxiety. These underlying sleep disturbances can trigger night terrors or make them more frequent. Addressing and treating these sleep disorders can significantly reduce the occurrence of night terrors.

Managing Night Terrors

If your child experiences night terrors, it is essential to create a safe sleeping environment and establish a calming bedtime routine. Avoiding triggers such as sleep deprivation and stressful situations can also help reduce the occurrence of night terrors. However, if night terrors persist and significantly affect your child’s quality of life, it is advisable to seek professional medical advice.

“Night terrors are often a temporary phase that most children outgrow with time,” says Dr. Smith, a pediatric sleep specialist.

Which is more serious: night terrors or nightmares?

Night Terrors

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are a type of parasomnia disorder that primarily affects children. They are characterized by sudden episodes of intense fear or terror during sleep, often accompanied by screaming, thrashing, and inconsolable crying. These episodes typically occur during the first few hours of sleep, and the child may have no recollection of the event upon waking up.

Night terrors can be distressing for both the child experiencing them and their parents or caregivers. Although they may appear similar to nightmares, night terrors are considered to be more severe. Unlike nightmares, which occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, night terrors occur during deep sleep stages known as non-REM sleep. This makes them more difficult to wake from and results in the child appearing confused and disoriented if awakened during an episode.


Nightmares, on the other hand, are bad dreams that can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, and unease. They commonly occur during REM sleep and are often vivid and detailed, making the dreamer feel as though they are experiencing a real-life threat or danger. Unlike night terrors, nightmares are more common among adults and can be triggered by various factors such as stress, anxiety, trauma, or certain medications.

While nightmares can be unsettling and disrupt sleep, they are generally less severe than night terrors. Most people can recall the content of their nightmare upon waking and are able to differentiate between the dream and reality. Nightmares often subside on their own or can be managed through relaxation techniques, therapy, or lifestyle changes.

Severity Comparison

When it comes to comparing the severity of night terrors and nightmares, it is important to understand the impact they have on the individual experiencing them. Night terrors can cause significant distress and can interfere with a child’s overall quality of sleep. They may also disrupt the sleep patterns of other family members.

On the other hand, nightmares, although unpleasant, do not typically result in the same level of emotional or physical disturbance as night terrors. While nightmares can cause temporary sleep disturbances and affect one’s well-being, they are generally considered to be a normal part of the dream cycle and often decrease in frequency as a person grows older.

“Night terrors can cause significant distress and can interfere with a child’s overall quality of sleep.”

Seeking Professional Help

If you or your child experience frequent night terrors or nightmares that significantly impact daily functioning or overall well-being, it is important to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or sleep specialist. They can help identify any underlying causes and provide guidance on appropriate management strategies.

In conclusion, while both night terrors and nightmares can be disruptive to sleep, night terrors are generally considered more severe due to their intense nature and potential impact on a child’s well-being. However, each individual’s experience may vary, and it is essential to seek professional advice if these sleep disturbances become a recurring issue.


Night terrors caused by trauma can be a challenging and distressing experience. Whether in adults or children, it’s essential to recognize the impact of trauma on mental health and seek appropriate help. Understanding the relationship between trauma and night terrors can pave the way for effective treatment, coping strategies, and ultimately, healing from the traumatic experiences. Remember, you don’t have to face these challenges alone – professional support is available to guide you towards better sleep and improved mental well-being.

Remember, you don’t have to face these challenges alone – professional support is available to guide you towards better sleep and improved mental well-being.

While night terrors can be distressing, understanding their potential causes can help individuals in the UK manage and prevent them. By addressing underlying factors and implementing healthy sleep habits, it is possible to reduce the frequency and impact of night terrors in adults. Seeking professional advice is always recommended for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

While there may be an indirect link between night terrors and anxiety in some cases, it is crucial to understand that night terrors primarily arise from sleep disturbances rather than anxiety disorders. By addressing underlying sleep issues and providing a supportive environment, the frequency and severity of night terrors can be reduced, allowing both children and parents to experience more restful nights.