Night terrors are known by a number of names. They are sometimes called sleep terrors, but some references to night terrors also include sleep or night terror disorders.
But what are night terrors in reality? Isn’t this just a simple nightmare? To the person witnessing the event, night terrors and nightmares may seem the same. But they are quite different – there are some things you can look for that will help determine whether you are experiencing a nightmare or night terror.
With both night terrors and nightmares, the person is asleep. Typically, they wake afraid, sometimes with a rapid heartbeat, sweating and fearful – these are the most evident symptoms of this dream occurrence. But there are some differences between a nightmare and a night terror that will also be evident. Often, the person with night terrors will have little or no recollection of the dream that caused them to wake, cry out or show any outward symptoms. They may believe that there is something frightening still in the room. They may even lash out, trying to escape this creature or person, even while you’re trying to tell them that there’s nothing there to be frightened of. The fact that the person can remember little or nothing of the dream, but insists that there is something in the immediate vicinity that is about to harm them is a very typical sign of night terrors.
By contrast, the person who has had a nightmare usually has a clear memory of the dream, at least for the first few minutes upon waking. What causes this difference between nightmares and night terrors? The answer probably lies in the time frame in which the dreams happen.
A person goes through a Sleep Cycle several times during each sleep period. The first four Stages of Sleep are known by numbers one through four. Each may last for five to fifteen minutes during the first sleep cycle of the sleep period. Usually, an individual will be asleep for about an hour and a half before they complete the cycle of sleep associated with these first four stages. Then the person enters the fifth stage of sleep, the REM stage. This is the time when most people dream, and when nightmares will typically occur. But the person who experiences night terrors has the dreams during the numbered stages of sleep – even though those stages are typically non-dream stages.