Dreams Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


Sometimes I have nightmares, where I jump up out of bed and have very vivid memories of being trapped after a long chase. But my friend told me that what I have are really night terrors. What's the difference?


I would have to know more about when the dreams occurred and when you jump up out of bed to really say, but the elaborate story line leads me to believe that these were nightmares, not terrors.

Night terrors & nightmares are quite different. Nightmares tend to occur after several hours of sleep. Usually the dream is complex and intense. What's really important is that the dreamer realizes upon wakening, or soon after, that they had an intense dream. While it may get you right up out of bed, there is rarely any thrashing around or bodily movement besides whimpers or groans.

Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during the first hour or two of sleep, loud screaming and thrashing about are common, the sleeper is hard to awaken and usually remembers no more than an overwhelming feeling or a single scene, if anything.

Nightmares and night terrors arise from different physiological stages of sleep. Children who have night terrors also may have a tendency to sleepwalk and/or urinate in bed. The causes of night terrors are not well understood. Children usually stop having them by puberty. They may be associated with stress in adults. A consultation with a physician may be useful if the night terrors are frequent or especially disturbing.


Richard Wilkerson is general editor for The Internet Dream E-zine, Electric Dreams, and director of DreamGate, the Internet Communications and Dream Education Center. He writes the Cyberphile column for the Association for the Study of Dreams Newsletter.


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