Sleep Terror vs. Nightmare: Which is Really Waking You Up at Night?

sleep terror

If you’ve never experienced one, sleep terrors can be among the most psychologically crippling and traumatizing events that can afflict a person.

As defined by Mayo Clinic, “Sleep terrors are episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep. Also known as night terrors, sleep terrors often are paired with sleepwalking. Like sleepwalking, sleep terrors are considered a parasomnia — an undesired occurrence during sleep.”

Sleep terrors can affect children and adults alike, but tend to be more common in children. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, making them especially difficult for parents to take action in situations where they may notice their child suffering the onset of a sleep terror (also known as a night terror.)

What’s the Difference Between a Nightmare and a Sleep Terror?

According to, night terrors usually occur during the first two to three hours of a sleep cycle (known as delta sleep), while nightmares typically take place during the deepest REM portions of our sleep. You may not often remember, but this is why nightmares are far more common during the very early morning hours (when you’re late in the sleep cycle), and night terrors tend to happen within the first couple hours of falling asleep. Another big difference between night terrors and nightmares is that it’s difficult to console a person who has just suffered a night terror while someone who just had a nightmare is easier to coalesce back to sleep in a shorter period of time.

What Can Be Done to Combat Sleep Terrors From Occurring?

Not surprisingly, children tend to be impacted by the lingering emotional effects of night terrors more so than adults. If your child is experiencing a pattern of waking up, within the first few hours of their sleep cycle, emotionally distraught (and terrified to return to sleep), it’s recommended that you seek the consultation of a licensed pediatric therapist or child psychologist. This will help identify the core of what may be triggering the recurring problem. The same course of action is recommended as a primary step in combatting the same symptoms in adults.

Once the psychological and/or medical elements of the condition have been addressed and are being treated, it’s important to remember the other elements of your sleep environment that might be preventing you from getting the best possible sleep you’re capable of. Considerations such as maintaining the correct lighting conditions and temperature regulation in your bedroom can go a long way to helping you fall asleep feeling more at ease.

Quality Sleep Each Night on a Spink & Edgar

In the same manner, it’s just as crucial that we not overlook our actual mattress itself when assessing your quality of sleep. Regardless of the medical sleep disorder, we may be facing, affording ourselves (and our children) with the highest quality luxury mattress that we can reasonably afford is an investment that will continue to pay off day after day for many years to come.

Continue your journey toward a better night’s sleep, and keep up to date with news and knowledge in the world of sleep science by signing for The Scholar. If you desire a better night’s sleep tonight, we suggest downloading your free copy:

A Guide to Better Sleep: Is A Luxury Bed Right For You?



Simple Share Buttons