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Nightmares and Night Terrors

General Information

Nightmares and night terrors belong to a category of sleep disorders called parasomnias – undesired events, activities or behaviors that occur during sleep. Everyone has nightmares at some point, but they’re considered a sleep disorder when they happen frequently, interfere with sleep or cause anxiety about falling asleep.

Goshen Physicians Sleep & Allergy Medicine wants you to experience your best health – and that includes getting a good night’s sleep. We offer a sleep disorders risk assessment to determine the need for additional sleep testing and shed light on possible causes of your nightmares and night terrors. Your primary care provider may decide to make a referral, where you can receive treatment from a board certified sleep specialist.

What are the differences?

Nightmares tend to happen toward the end of the sleep cycle. They are vivid, disturbing dreams that seem very real. They usually involve physical danger but can also cause negative emotions, such as embarrassment or anger. The intensity progresses to where it wakes you with a clear recall of the episode. A simple bad dream doesn't escalate to wakefulness in this manner.

Night terrors, or sleep terrors, usually occur during deep sleep. They more often affect children between ages 4 and 12. The person may sit up, scream or shout, thrash, kick, look frightened, sweat, breathe heavily or even jump out of bed. He or she won't be able to communicate or remember very much or any of the episode. It's difficult to wake someone up from a night terror.

What causes nightmares and night terrors?

If you have chronic nightmares, they could be due to stress, anxiety, a traumatic event or lack of sleep.

Night terrors have a strong genetic link, so you are more likely to experience them if someone else in your family has them. Adults who develop night terrors usually have underlying mental health problems. Risk factors for night terrors in children include lack of sleep, physical and emotional stress, sleep schedule disruptions and fevers.

How to stop nightmares and night terrors

Try these tips to prevent nightmares and night terrors:

  • Reduce stress.
  • Relax before bedtime.
  • Reduce stimulation like computer, TV and phone use.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime, since fatigue can add to the problem and create a cycle.

If your nightmares and night terrors persist, talk with your doctor about seeing a board certified sleep specialist at Goshen Physicians Sleep & Allergy Medicine.

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