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