Night Terrors and Nightmares- How to Deal with Them
|   Jul 13, 2017
Night Terrors and Nightmares- How to Deal with Them

Have you ever woken up screaming in the middle of the night, palpitating and in dread? This uncertainty is called nightmares and night terrors as two types of awakenings which are managed differently.


Nightmares are experienced when children and occasionally adults wake up from vivid dreams that are fearful. It is attributed to seeing something dreadful in one’s dream that causes anxiety. They can be caused by things that have really happened or things that are make believe. Most of the times people can recall the dream with a fair degree of detail.


Nightmares are triggered by a variety of factors such as-

1. Scary movies, books or video games

2. Illness or fever

3. Stress, anxiety or depression

4. Alcohol or drug abuse

5. Medications like antidepressants or narcotics

6. Sleep apena, condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep

7. PTSD(post traumatic stress disorder) an anxiety disorder which develops when the person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event such as rape.

8. Narcolepsy, sleep disorder that is characterised by drowsiness during the day followed by quick naps or sleep attacks.


  • On the other hand night terrors also known as sleep terrorare more extreme as compared to nightmares. It causes a state of arousal from sleep in which child/adult kicks, throws things and screams as if in an intense panic.
  • According to researchers night terrors are mysterious glitches in smooth transitions we make between being asleep and awake. An episode of night terror is likely to last from few minutes to even an hour. Usually child wakes up and sits upright with wide eyes not aware about his/her presence and doesn’t remember the details of the dream. When it’s over child goes back to sleep without the need to be consoled. He/she may later give vague account of their dream. Night terrors are more common amongst young children. A study revealed that kids often grow out of them by the age of 12.


There is no definite cause of a night terror. Nobody knows the exact cause of it, it is likely to be caused by multiple number of factors. Some of them are-

1. Not getting enough sleep.

2. Fever

3. Certain medications or caffeine

4. Someone in family has night terrors or sleep disorder such as sleepwalking.


Night terrors are easily forgotten while nightmares can easily be recalled. Secondly, in night terrors children don’t feel the need to be consoled and go back to sleep after some time. On the other hand nightmares leaves the child truly awake and often feel the need to be consoled or someone to talk to about their dream which makes them feel better. In night terror, child is in a state of confusion and becomes unaware about the presence of people in their surroundings. With nightmares there is no confusion and the child seeks out a parent for help. Night terrors occur during first few hours of sleep before REM sleep while nightmares occur later at night during REM sleep.


Certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the occurrence of nightmares such as-

1. Getting 7 hours of good sleep everyday

2. Exercising

3. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing before going to bed

4. Limiting the amount of caffeine and alcohol

Other techniques include-

1. Asking the person if there is something that is troubling them.

2. Assure them there is nothing to be frightened of and help them get back to sleep.

3. If the nightmares are occurring because of a traumatic event then counselling is recommended.


1. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine

2. Be patient. Best thing one can do during such times is to wait for it to get over.

3. Make sure that the environment is safe and the person experiencing night terror don’t hurt themselves while moving during an episode.

4. Try and keep the person awake for a bit to make sure they don’t go back to sleep immediately because it is likely that another episode of night terror can happen.

Dreams are a gateway to the unconscious mind. It tells a lot about what one has been thinking or feeling however it does not necessarily tell us that something is wrong with the person psychologically. Know that your mind is not against you. If you struggle with nightmares or night terrors it is essential that in waking life you start to be proactive about reducing stress in your life. This may mean cutting back on work load, getting extra help here and there, seeing a therapist for help with problems that are causing you stress or anything else that may help reduce your stress levels. Night terrors and nightmares may cause you to feel fear, but you do not need to fear them.

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