Repeated nightmares are bad dreams that recur frequently and involve the same theme. Nightmares usually begin before the age of 10 and are considered a normal part of childhood. And in some cases, may continue into adulthood.
Night terrors are a sleep disorder. During these dreams, you will quickly awakens from sleep in a terrified state. They are fairly common in children 3 – 5 years old, and they can occur in adults, especially with emotional tension and/or the use of alcohol.
So here is how to tell the difference between a nightmare and a night terror.
The normal sleep cycle involves distinct stages, from light drowsiness to deep sleep. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the eyes move quickly and vivid dreaming is most common. Each night there are several cycles of non-REM and REM sleep.
Night terrors (sleep terrors) occur during stage 3 and stage 4 sleep (deep sleep). The cause is unknown but night terrors are often triggered by:
Night terrors are like nightmares, except that nightmares usually occur during REM sleep and include unpleasant or frightening dreams. Nightmares are most common in the early morning.
Night terrors usually happen in the first half of the night. After a frightful awakening, you usually will not remember the details of what caused your scare.
In contrast, nightmares are normal on occasion, especially after you watch a frightening movie/TV shows or have an emotional experience. You may remember the details of your dream upon awakening, and will not be disoriented after the episode.
Night terrors are most common in pre-adolescent boys, although they also can occur in girls and in adults. Most children outgrow night terrors. They don’t usually remember the event. Stress reduction and/or psychotherapy may be helpful for night terror in adults.