Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nightmares vs Night Terrors

A common question people ask is, "what is the difference between a nightmare and a night terror?" These are very different phenomena and give people feedback about their own waking day lives. What is the difference between these,and, what can people learn from these two dream mentations?

p.s This is posting 9. There will be one more.


  1. Nightmares tend to have psychological causes, and are the result of continuity or compensation to waking life. These dream events are very negative, anmd have to do with perceived threat to the dreamer. They are much more easily recalled, and likely have an anxiety basis (e.g. PTSD).
    Night terrors are more rare, isolated, and have roots primarily in physical causes. Poor sleep quality is correlated to night terrors, through things like sleep apnea. Somatic arousal occurs, but recall is much more limited than nightmares.
    Main differences include: nightmares are much better recalled and therefore meaningful to the dreamer. Night terrors are less prone to consolation and interpretation, largely because of poor recall. They 'jar' the dreamer out of sleep, but the images do not persist like that of a nightmare. Physical injury occurs more frequently with night terrors due to the thrashing around that can happen while sleeping.
    In terms of learning, this essentially means there is more 'grist for the mill' from nightmares, simply because there are recalled images to interpret. It's hard to learn from something one can't process cognitively.
    From a behavioural/ implicit learning standpoint, both could point to poor sleep quality. This could be helped with medical intervention if the nightmares/ night terrors are chronic.
    Both are more common in children, with night terrors being more rare than nightmares.

  2. Kristina PasnickApril 3, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    A night terror is when a person is partially awake from sleep. You could see behaviors such as screaming, kicking, panic, sleepwalking, rapid heart rate or mumbling. Night terrors usually occur within two hours of the time a person goes to sleep. Once the night terror is over they are back in deep sleep. Quite often the person will wake up not remembering the night terror, however this is not always the case. Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken you. Nightmares may happen for no known reason, but sometimes occur when you have been upset about something. Nightmares usually happen during the last third of sleep, during REM (dream time) sleep. It is possible for adults to experience night terror and nightmares however it is often seen through different developmental stages of children. Nightmares are usually due to something that has happened in their waking day life (continuity) that has caused them to be upset; perhaps a death or a breakup of a loved one. Night terrors are usually caused due to lack of sleep, stress or other medical ailments in an individual’s life.

  3. The DSM criteria for night terror disorder are:
    waking up from sleeping by screaming
    autonomic arousal
    can't be comforted or soothed

    Nightmares have more of a story line. They tell you a story that has continuity with waking day life. They usually are due to stress, anxiety or drugs. Night terrors are much more rare and they are shocking to the dreamer. They do not tell a story and they are more of a physical feeling (feeling of being choked or trapped). There is some idea that they may be due to lack of sleep or fever (a physical problem). A lot of the time they can't be remembered so they are not trying to tell you something specific about your daily emotional life. They may be more of a result of a physical problem and you may need to see a doctor about them whereas nightmares are about something more personal.

  4. A nightmare is a dream experience that is frightening and ends when a person wakes up abruptly. To my knowledge nightmares take place during REM sleep. Usually when a person wakes up from a nightmare they are alert and aware of their surroundings and know they've had a bad dream but know it isn't real. Adults tend to dream of common themes such as fears, being chased or attacked that are complex and intense. These usually occur following significant events in our lives or reveal upcoming anxieties.
    A night terror takes place during NREM sleep and when a person wakes from a night terror they are usually confused and disorientated compared to nightmares where you wake up alert. A person wakes up still frightened, sometimes breathing heavy or sweating but only remembers a key scene or the theme. This is because night terrors are much more physiologically intense than nightmares. These involve moving around or screaming and a person is more difficult to wake up than during a nightmare.
    I feel that people can learn about their waking day anxieties or fears although this may be difficult for night terrors as they are usually not remembered. If they become a problem there are techniques used, such as lucid dreaming, that can lower the chances of nightmares or night terrors.

  5. A nightmare is a frightening dream. It causes distress and discomfort to the dreamer and it can sometimes cause intense fear. Within all of its forms, the nightmare is largely just a bad dream. Since it is therefore just a dream, it probably resembles some waking day aspect of the dreamer. To discover the meaning of the nightmare, the dreamer should interpret their dream using the methods used in class, starting with the simplest interpretation method, the Storytelling Method, moving into the 2A Method to discover emotions. If the dreamer is still not happy with what they are finding in their dream, they can use the Projective method, a method that uses other people’s perspectives and gives the dreamer a different point of view, or encourages them to ask certain questions. Finally, the dreamer can also use Meditative Dream Re-Entry on their nightmare. After completing a routine meditative technique the dream then re-enters into their dream and finds a truer, deeper meaning and realization of what their dream is trying to tell them. Symptoms of a nightmare include slight movements, and/or moaning. Nightmares usually cause the dreamer to become awakened because of fearsome imagery.
    A night terror is a state of unconsciousness in which the dreamer is active in their sleep. They may kick, scream, talk, walk, and may experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Night terrors commonly happen within the 3rd Stage or NREM stage of sleep. Night terrors are much more uncommon and rare than nightmares. Poor sleep quality is significantly correlated with night terrors. However; this seems to be circular because if a child is afraid to go to sleep due to night terrors, than their sleep quality will be much more poor than a child who is not afraid to go to sleep, causing the child who is afraid to go to sleep more prone to having night terrors. Night terrors can lead to Sleep Terror Disorder, which is a diagnosable disorder within the DSM-IV-TR. To be diagnosed with Sleep Terror Disorder, individuals need to meet 6 criterion. These include; (1) waking quickly from sleep, (2) intense fear and autonomic arousal (increased heart rate, blood pressure, etc…), (3) individuals are unable to be comforted, and (4) they are unable to remember the details of their dream. The final 2 criterion are based on the fact the individuals are experiencing (5) clinically significant impairment and distress to their daily functions, which are due to their sleep terrors, and that these sleep terrors (6) are not caused by medication prescribed (or un-prescribed) or abuse of narcotics. Learning from night terrors may be more difficult than learning from nightmares because of the fact that individuals simply have a harder time remember the details of their night terror. It would be interesting to see how researchers could learn more about night terrors, and suggest ways in which individuals can help themselves overcome their night terrors without relying on the effects of medication (benzodiazepine) to calm the dreamer down.

  6. I feel that a nightmare is a more common problem with people and can be solved with a simple interpretation followed by problem-solving in real life. I feel that a night terror is much deeper than that and will take a lot more effort to aid the solution. Night terrors should be taken more seriously and be a main focus until they can stop. I think what we can learn from this is that just because something is not affecting you everyday life it doesn't mean it will not affect your brain and how you are able to function as a normal human being.

  7. Nightmares have been seen, just as dreams, to be a problem solving mechanisms. They are used for emotional regulation and protective mechanism. Other characteristics of a nightmare are that you can be easily awakened, you are able to recall details immediately after the nightmare and you have good recall in the morning. As other have said, they are a result of waking day experiences. Nightmares are also fairly common and most people have experienced a nightmare at least once in the past.
    Night terrors, are less frequent, they are physiologically caused, rather than socially (waking day experiences), when experiencing a night terror, one is very hard to wake up, and the recall is much less, if there is any recall at all. I believe nightmares can be beneficial, for working through repressed emotion, I am not sure if there is a benefit of experiencing a night terror.

  8. The difference between a nightmare and a night terror, is that one the dreamer remembers upon waking and the other they do not. Nightmares are dreams with strong and often confusing negative imagery that causes the dreamer to wake up abruptly, with good recall. They are beneficial in regards to dream analysis as they often are about some unconscious problem that the dreamer is experiencing in their waking day but is yet unaware of, and can be used to help gain insight into this issue.

    A Night Terror is a dream with strong, confusing and negative imagery that is not remembered upon waking, but is noticeable by the kicking and screaming that is often observed by others while the dreamer is sleeping. The dreamer wakes terrified, but often not knowing why. They are much more uncommon than nightmares, and usually observed in younger children. In regards to dream analysis, they are not useful as dream details are not remembered. They are useful in observing that their presence shows a stress of some kind, and are a hallmark when children grow out of them.

    - Carey-Ann Bette

  9. A nightmare happens in REM sleep and is something that has very negative imagery for the dreamer. It can be remembered vicidly upon waking and can also be used for problem solving while sleeping.
    A night terror happens in NREM sleep and is characterized by waking up from sleep screaming and automatic arousal. Night terrors also cannot be remembered however negative thoughts and images are said to have happened. Night terrors do not happen as often as nightmares. Night terrors are not good to interpret as there is nothing to be remembered upon waking.

  10. A nightmare is a dream in which frightens you. It will often wake you up, and you can also recall them pretty easily. Due to the easier nature of recall with these dreams, it is easy to interpret them to find the meaning to them.
    Night terrors are less common and are harder to remember. In this dream state they are in a state of arousal. The body also has more of a physiological response to these dreams. It is not uncommon to thrash around and wake up in a state of panic and sweating to a night terror.

  11. Nightmares and night terrors are very different. Nightmares can be thought of as a bad dream and when you wake up you understand that it was just a dream. A night terror on the other hand is much more intense and have more physiological effects. When the person wakes up from a night terror it is common for them to believe that they really experienced what was in their dream. Night terrors result in intense autonomic nervous systems reaction including increased heart rate and faster breathing. Also, nightmares occur after several hours of sleep where as night terrors occur after only a couple hours of sleep in nREM sleep.

  12. My understanding is that night terrors are more common in children as they are related to a particular stage of sleep (I think stage 2) which occurs for longer periods of time during children's sleep cycle than for adults. My understanding is that night terrors are something that people tend to grow out of, whereas nightmares people tend to have throughout their life. Nightmares tend to have more dream recall associated with them than night terrors do, as many people suggest that the dreamer isn't even aware that they are having a night terror. People are often aware of the fact that they are having or have had a nightmare. I think that nightmares are more telling about what is happening in a person's waking day life. Nightmare images tend to be more related to anxiety and stress. If a person were having more nightmares it might be a signal that they could be stressed about something in their waking life or experiencing more anxiety. Nightmares may serve the function of helping us process negative images in a safe way. the presentation we saw in class about nightmares suggested that they served as a coping mechanism, and that people who had more nightmares had lower levels of depression and stress in waking life. Nightmares might be adaptive for us. I think we can learn form nightmares in the same way we learn from other dreams through dream interpretation. We learned in class that MDR works well as a technique for discovering what we can learn from nightmares.

  13. A nightmare is an unpleasant or scary dream. Many of them are unaware of nightmares and children experience more frequently than adults. A person wakes up after a nightmare and is often distressed and you cannot comfort the person after a nightmare. A Night terror is not a dream but is a partial awakening from sleep with unusual behaviors such as screaming, mumbling or kicking. The person may be sweating or breathing fast during a night terror. Night terrors occur within two hours of sleep after a person goes to sleep. Night terrors are harmless and each event will end in deep sleep. A person will not wake up with a night terror even though he or she may have their eyes open. They are not completely awake and cannot recognize or communicate with you. People may oppose going back to sleep after a nightmare because they are afraid. Nightmares always occur almost in the night during the light stages of REM sleep. nightmares are usually remembered. A person will settle down quickly after a night terror. You have to stay with them until they go back to sleep. Night terrors are usually completely forgotten. The main cause of night terrors is overtiredness.The cause of nightmares may be due to the worries you are having. Separation anxiety may be another cause of nightmares.

    people can learn from their nightmares that there is something really bothering them. for instance, i had a lucid nightmare 2 nights before my surgery in which i played the experience over and over again in how i thought it could possibly go. this went on the entire night, as far as i can remember. this is especially evident in recurring nightmares. running dream interpretation on them can help to determine what it is that is subconsciously, or consciously distressing you.

    melissa van grootel

  14. The main difference between a nightmare and a night terror is that night terrors are typically more physiological disturbing and nightmares are more psychological. In nightmares, they are usually caused by distressing and worrisome events - such that the person will have unpleasant dreams because their subconscious thoughts and worries will come out in their dream content. The person will usually remember nightmares since they occur during light stages of REM sleep. However, for night terrors, they are more physiologically arousing and can involve night sweats, screaming and kicking. Night terrors are rarely remembered and if they are, they involve frightening images like spiders or people in the room while sleeping. It has been noted that nightmares usually scare children more often, while night terrors are more frightening for adults.

  15. Nightmares are dreams were an individual can problem solve. They often have negative imagery that bothers the individual experiencing them. Nightmares are remembered by the individuals who have them. Whereas night terrors are often very disturbing to the individual and causes them to lash out in their sleep (kicking, punching, and possibly screaming). However individuals who have night terrors do not recall them once they wake up but they are frightened. So they feel scared, frightened and on edge when waking but do not know the cause of their feelings. An individual is able to grow out of their night terrors. Whereas an individual can have nightmares at any time no matter their age.

  16. Nightmares are dreams. More specifically, they are frightening dreams that usually involve distressing imagery and unpleasant emotions. Nightmares are brought on when something is unresolved or very distressing in our waking day. They help us problem solve. Most people experience nightmares although some have them more often than others. Nightmares can be reoccurring if attention is not paid to the dream or to what’s causing them in waking day. Also, people wake up from nightmares usually still feeling the negative emotions from the nightmare. I have very frequent nightmares and every time I wake up I find it hard to calm down. I usually need to call someone in order to feel better. Night terrors are different. Night terrors don’t happen to the majority of people. Also, most people are never aware that they experience a night terror. Night terrors are characterized by observable aggressive behaviour such as kicking and screaming. I think night terrors just insinuate that something is off balance within the body. I don’t believe night terrors are as connected to emotions as nightmares are. If someone is having frequent night terrors they should consult a doctor. Nightmares are more personal and emotional and can be solved by the person if they pay attention to the dream.

  17. I think the main difference between nightmares and night terrors is that night terrors are emotional awakenings where the individual experiencing the night terror is scared, anxious, can involving yelling, screaming, sweating etc. but they often cannot remember what frightened them. Nightmares on the other hand I believe have more of a basis on the dreamer's waking life. They reflect personal fears or problems that the dreamer must overcome in their waking day. Nightmares are often remembered in vivid detail and are more likely to be a recurring dream. Nightmares can be worked with by using dream interpretation methods or therapies in order to get to the root of the issue in order to stop the nightmares but I don't think these would be useful for night terrors since the source of the terror is unknown.

  18. Maighan MackenzieApril 5, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    The difference between nightmares and night terrors is that nightmares are bad dreams caudsing feelings of horror or fear. Nightmares can be remembered upon waking and thus can be used as a dream that can be interpreted. Night terrors are episodes that are not remembered upon waking. They can happen when one is overly tired and cannot be awoken once in the night terror state. While nightmares happen in REM sleep, night terrors happen in Stage 3 or Stage 4 of NREM sleep. Episodes of night terrors can happen for a couple weeks and then suddenly stop without warning.

    In terms of learning about ones waking day self, I believe that nightmares are useful when they are recorded and interpreted to see what is happening in the dream world. However, night terrors would not prove very effective when learning about waking day issues becuase they are not remembered by the dreamer, and while abrupt awakenings happen, they do not know what happeded in their dreams, thus making it quite hard to interpret their meanings.

  19. Night terrors are more severe and also less common to have as opposed to nightmares. It is impossible to wake children from having a night terror, and it is also harder to consle those who have just had a night terror (usually children). Furthermore, people often have a hard time remembering what the dream was about after waking from a night terror.

    Contrastingly, it is easier to console a child who has just had a nightmare by simply cuddling them, reassuring them that everything is okay, reading them a story, or talking about positive things before bed.

    From these dream mentations, I do not think that night terrors would be useful because children often can't remember the dream in the first place. However, I think that keeping a dream journal for someone having nightmares would be useful because they could pick out reoccurant themes or issues and relate it back to their waking day life to hopefully solve the issue and eliminate the nightmares .

  20. The initial difference between both a nightmare and a night terror is that a nightmare is an unpleasant dream that can cause strong negative emotional responses. On the other hand, a night terror is a severe form of a nightmare that causes feelings or terror or dread. This type of dreaming will usually happen in the first few hours of sleeping. Night terrors are not as typical as nightmares and do not happen as frequently. Not many individuals will experience night terrors, although it is very common to experience a nightmare on a regular basis.

  21. Night terrors are sleep disruptions that are similar to nightmares, but are far more dramatic. Night terrors can be characterized by screaming, yelling, and panic. It is difficult to wake up the dreamer, and they usually don’t remember anything. On the other hand, nightmares are intense dreams that are usually easy to remember, making them useful for dream interpretation. Night terrors and nightmares occur at different points in the sleep stages as well. Most nightmares happen during REM sleep, whereas night terrors occur during non-REM sleep. Night terrors are rooted in physiological causes, and nightmares are relates to waking day concerns and worries.

    People will learn more from nightmares because they are easily remembered. Therefore, dream interpretation can address the cause of the nightmare, and the dreamer can learn more about himself/herself. Since night terrors are not remembered, they aren’t traumatizing for the dreamer but there is no real benefit of having them. It will be more traumatizing for another person who witnesses such behaviour. If anything, witnesses of other people’s night terrors can help them realize that they are suffering from some type of stress and/or lack of proper sleep.

  22. The difference between a nightmare and a night terror is that a nightmare awakens the dreamer in the night and causes the dreamer anxiety in going back to sleep. An example would be if a dreamer was dreaming about being chased by a man with a knife and the dreamer woke up in shock, realized it was a nightmare and tried to go back to sleep but couldn't get rid of the anxiety the dream caused. A nightterror is different by how the dream is in a partially awake and partially asleep and exhibits behanviour like screaming and kicking. They occur earlier in the night (usually within 2 hours of falling asleep) and usually end in the dreamer going into a deep sleep.
    People can learn that nightmares might be linked with anxiety in waking day life and as such, dealing with the anxiety in waking day will probably help to subside the nightmares in sleeping. Night terrors on the other hand, might be caused by the sleep environment (a new home, sleep over) or taking a new medication, or not enough sleep. Night terrors, dreamers tend to grow out of them and they go away on their own.
    Tara-Lee Upshall

  23. Nightmares are frightening dreams or disturbing mental experiences that occur during the REM sleep stage (later in sleep stage), awaken the sleeper from their REM sleep, and tend to be the result of stress and traumatic events in the dreamer’s waking day life. Upon waking, the dreamer is usually able to remember the dream content, and may be unable to sleep for a period of time due to the distress caused by the nightmare. Night terrors on the other hand occur during the NREM sleep stages (earlier in sleep cycle) and are partial arousals from deep sleep, where the individual sits up with an expression of terror, emits a piercing scream, and appears frightened and inconsolable. While the individual will look awake, s/he will be unresponsive to their environment, display autonomic arousal (rapid breathing, sweating, dilated pupils, increased muscle tone), and if awakened they will be disoriented and confused. If the person is left alone, s/he will returns to sleep and will have no recollection of the episode, with typical duration between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. This event can be triggered by sleep disruptive phenomena that results in poor quality or quantity of sleep, such as untreated apneas, periodic limb movements, pain, full bladder, and environmental noise. In contrast to sleep terrors, nightmares are not associated with confusion or disorientation, and the individual is able to relate dream content as well as associated fear and anxiety upon awakening (find meaning in the dream). Both events are more common to occur with children, but while adults may experience nightmares, night terror episodes are considered more rare.

    In terms of what people can learn from these two dream mentations, upon waking only nightmares can provide meaning to the dreamer to help them understand or learn something from their waking life that is having an effect on their unconscious mind, since the individual remembers the disturbing imagery in their dream that awoke them in the first place. We would probably think that the person is currently experiencing stress and anxiety in their waking day life around the time of the nightmare. Night terrors however do not have this usefulness, since the individual does not tend to remember the episode in question. When someone experiences one of these two events though, they can also come to an understanding that perhaps their sleeping hygiene needs improvement. In both situations poor sleep hygiene (routine and deprivation) and poor sleep quality has been shown to be a cause, and by instituting a regular sleep-wake pattern, the issue can be resolved.

  24. I think that the biggest difference between nightmares and night terrors is that the later of the two involves physiological causes, where as the first involves emotional causes. Because nightmares relate to waking day emotions and events, they can be recalled upon waking. This is aupported by the meaning found in nightmares from multiple interpretation methods. However, there is no emotional response to the nighterrors, which explains why they can't be recalled upon waking. There is no meaning to be gained from have a night terror, because it is a physiological response in sleep, not a dream.

    Grace Williamson