Nightmares vs. Sleep Terrors — the Tiny Margin of Distinction

Nightmares vs. Sleep Terrors

At least for once in your life, you must have slept to see a scary movie playing in your mind — like witnessing a murder or falling off a cliff — and it’ll cause to jump up from bed panting before a terrible scene plays; jumping up, you’ll be like ‘wow! It’s just a dream, a really bad dream.

There are mainly two sleep condition that could cause this bad dream; nightmares vs. night terror; and we’ll be treating the two, considering their difference and other important factors.

Let’s talk about Nightmares. . .

The Major Difference between Nightmares and Sleep Terrors

There are a few distinctions between nightmares and sleep terrors. . .

Basically, Nightmares are unpleasant dreams that still recur to you even while you’re awake and even engaged in your normal daily routine; you’ll definitely remember the scenes, even though not the whole details, but a picture of it.

On the other hand, sleep terror deals with the feeling of intense fear, thrashing around and screaming while you’re still in bed; you could wake up and have no idea of what really happened; anyone awake at the moment will definitely know that everything isn’t alright. But if you do sleep alone, you won’t know a bit.

Think of a nightmare as a horror movie; it increases to the climax gradually— so you don’t just start screaming — and there tends to be a build-up. On the other hand, for the sleep terror, you’ll be sleeping calmly until all of a sudden BANG!!! You’re already screaming.

Nightmares and Sleep Terror Timing

Before you jump to a conclusion, it’ll interest you to know that these two conditions are partially dependent on the stage of sleep these conditions happen.

For the sleep terror, it occurs typically during the stage three of non-REM sleep (usually during the first half of the night); it’s also known as the deep sleep stage.

According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), at the non-REM stage, the brain is much more inactive; the brain waves are enormously slow and interposed with a faster wave.

You’ll be expecting Nightmares during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage (usually during the second half of the night). According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), the main dreaming occurs of all the stages of sleep the brain is more active at this stage than it is at every other stage.

Since sleep terror and nightmare happen at different stages of sleep, it’s obvious they won’t occur at the same time of the night. Any patient who’s a victim of these conditions should always check for timing before reaching a conclusion. For the first half of the night, you should consider sleep terrors, but if the second half, it’s probably nightmares.

Furthermore, a patient who wakes up from a sleep terror will be more tensed than it is for a case of a nightmare. You can easily cope with a patient suffering

from nightmares because he’ll definitely know it’s just a dream. It’s totally different for the sleep terror; the patient is partially awake, with a greater part of their brain still asleep; you’ll definitely not know if someone is with you in a room, so can’t be controlled.

Causes of Nightmares vs. Sleep Terror

Someone should be asking “So why does the brain play such petrifying tricks on your sleep?”

In one of the releases by the Mayo Clinic, they suggested that a few things could trigger sleep terror. Some of these factors include stress, fever, excessive alcohol intake, Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, sleep deprivation and altering of sleep routine and mental health (e.g. jetlag).

Sleep terror is prevalent amongst people with sleeping conditions such as anxiety, sleep disorder, sleepwalking or and PTSD. These sleeping defects have a similar underlying mechanism in the brain.

Recent studies by the U.S Department of Veteran Affair shows that recurring nightmare and is also most prevalent among survivors of several traumas, and patients of PTSD.

In one a recent release by the national sleep foundation, they mentioned there are a few things which increase the likelihood of having a nightmare.

Some of the factors include stress, restless leg syndrome, sleep disorders, drug side effect (this includes certain antidepressants), eating late at night (your metabolism will occur and excite your brain’s activity)

Nightmare is a very rampant disorder — with 35-45 percent of the population having one nightmare per month, and 2-6 percent once a week. It is predominant among women; especially during their pregnancy; it’s not so with men,

Unassuming Remedies and Control for Nightmares vs. Sleep Terrors You Should Know

Nightmares vs. Sleep Terrors

Amongst the several controls, you can try these ones to prevent nightmares and night terrors.

Simple Treatments for Sleep Terrors

These home remedies have been proven as an effective approach for sleep terrors.

  • Focus you treatment on underlying conditions. Try checking out for underlying conditions such as restless leg syndrome and focus your treatment of them.
  • Address Stress. Most of the times, the issue might be stress or anxiety. I’d suggest you meet your doctor to know their opinion on addressing stress. Relaxation therapy, Cognitive behavioral therapy, and sleep therapy could be helpful. You could check out for more information on how to tackle the issue of stress naturally.
  • Preventive awakening. Look for patterns and the recurring times for this condition and your partners and mates can wake you some minutes before the recurring period so you’ll stay awake for some minutes before going back to sleep; it’s just a preventive method.
  • Medication. Of all options, I’ll put this at least consideration. You can use antidepressants and benzodiazepines – but it’s not a prevalent treatment.
  • Sleep well. Most patients have found themselves in this condition because of fatigue and inadequate sleep. Schedule an effective sleeping timetable and observe it strictly. Also, make sure the environment is safe and comfortable for a sleep.
  • Establish a relaxing routine. There are several activities that’ll ease you of the day’s hurdles and tedious activities — such as taking a warm bath, reading — before bed. They’re really effective and prevailing for such situations.

Simple Treatments for Nightmares

These home remedies have been proven as an effective approach for sleep terrors.

  • Medical Treatment. Some of these conditions are associated with several underlying conditions, so you’ll have to check on the doctor to be sure.
  • Address stress and anxiety. Several cases nightmares have been traced to mental health issues like stress and anxiety. You’ll have to seek medical attention or see or more information.
  • Medication. Of all options, I’ll put this at least consideration. You could use recommended medications or severe cases of nightmares associated with PTSD – but it’s not a prevalent treatment.
  • Offer reassurances. Patience is one of the important factors that are necessary to tackle nightmares. Once your partner wakes up at night, respond quickly and soothe them to prevent future nightmares.
  • Discuss the dream. Always talk about the dreams with your clients, and ask a question like What happened in the dream? Who did you see? What made it scary? This really helps in calming the situation.
  • Imagery Rehearsal Therapy. For mild cases of nightmares, I suggest you use the image rehearsal therapy. The goal of this therapy is to reduce the sensitivity of the nightmares and makes it less scary. How do you achieve this? You’ll have to write your nightmare – just as the last one you had – and try to make the story have a soothing end. Try visualizing this story twice a day or even more so it’ll register in your memory. When you start having this nightmare, it should appear as you visualized it, and with time it’ll stub out.


In brief, there’s a tiny margin that distinguishes nightmares from sleep terror. Since there’s a margin between these songs, you shouldn’t expect them both to have the same treatment approach. If you’re having any of these issues as a result of sleep disorders, you could check our past articles for more details on how to go about these disorders, and indirectly treat your nightmares or sleep, terror. Nevertheless, always remember to consult a medical practitioner and expert for more inquiries.

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