How Are Night Terrors Different From Nightmares

How Are Night Terrors Different From Nightmares

Normally comparing the two, nightmares and night terrors may sound the same, with night terrors acting like a super intense nightmare. But that is as far from the truth as we are from the next habitable planet. Night terrors also called sleep terrors are way more than just intense nightmares. The two are separate sleep conditions with a lot of differences. 

The only thing that ties the two together is the fact that they are both part of a group of sleep disorders formally known as parasomnias. Parasomnias can be identified by the induction of undesirable experiences occurring during sleep or during sleep-wake transitions. With an overview regarding that the two conditions are indeed different, read forth to get a detailed perspective on the two and how to manage them. 

Night Terrors 

Night terrors are grimm episodes of screaming and intense fear ensuing with flailing, all while still being asleep. Also called sleep terrors, this condition is more often than not also paired with sleep walking and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. More common in children than in adults, it can make the child sit upright while asleep as the screaming follows. 

The night terror episode or the screaming is not remembered by the sleeper. They often need to be consoled after the attack, even though they are asleep. 

Causes of Night Terrors

Sleep terrors are termed as a parasomnia, an undesirable  experience and behavior during sleep. Sleep terrors occur during the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.  Another NREM disorder is sleepwalking, which can sometimes occur with sleep terrors.

Various factors can contribute to sleep terrors, such as:

  • Sleep deprivation and extreme tiredness
  • Stress
  • Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions

Night terrors can also be triggered by a set of stimuli that interfere with sleep, such as

  • Disordered sleep breathing like Sleep Apnea
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Specific medications
  • Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol use, in adults 

How to Limit / Curb Night Terrors 


Nightmares are deeply coherent and vivid descriptions of any episode encompassing the theme of dread and fear. They generally take place in REM sleep and people wake up with a sense of glom, despair, fear and embarrassment following the dream. People often tend to remember what transpired in a nightmare which remains for a while and can also follow them for a longer period of time. 

There are a variety of reasons that people have nightmares – 

  • Anxiety and depression 
  • PTSD 
  • Substance Use 
  • Emotional Upheaval 

How to Curb / Limit Nightmares

  • Try and get reassurances
  • Talk about your dreams
  • Use a night light

Nightmares are not paired with any sense of physical harm, even though there is a sense of emotional trauma that remains for a while. 

Difference Between Night Terrors and Nightmares 

  • Confusion – After waking from a nightmare, you feel a sense of scare, but you still remember it to be a dream and you make out your surroundings. After a night terror, you wake up dazed and confused, not knowing what happened.
  • Movement – As night terrors occur during the nREM sleep, it can involve movement and can be attributed with sleepwalking too. Nightmares take place in REM sleep and hence the body stays rigid, with little to no muscle movement.
  • Amnesia – Though nightmare memories can often recede into a wisp of nothing, you still remember what it was. Night terrors are episodes that people who experience it have no recollection about.   
  • Timing – Nightmares occur late in one’s sleep cycle, night terrors are seen not so far off into a sleep cycle. 
  • Degree of fear – During a night terror the sufferer will be highly scared to an extent of crying and screaming, though they might not remember it. Nightmares don’t have such a sense of fright attached to them.