Nightmares and Night Terrors


Nightmares are vivid nocturnal events that can cause feelings of fear, terror, and/or anxiety. Usually, the person having a nightmare is abruptly awakened from REM sleep and is able to describe detailed dream content. Typically, they occur more during the early morning hours. Usually, the person having a nightmare has difficulty returning to sleep.

Nightmares can be caused by many factors including illness, anxiety, the loss of a loved one, or negative reactions to a medication. Extreme cases are usually associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Call your doctor if nightmares occur more often than once a week or if nightmares prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep for 1 month or more. There are medications such as alpha-blockers that can be useful.

Night Terrors

Night terrors are to be distinguished from nightmares in the following ways:

  1. They are more common in children.
  2. The person is inconsolable and does not usually awaken.
  3. The person has no memory of the event in the morning.
  4. Usually they occur during the first 2-3 hours of sleep.
  5. They do not disturb the sleep or daytime function of the patient, but are quite distressful to the rest of the household.