Night Terrors Are Not Nightmares

There’s a difference between these terrifying night-time disturbances

Lana Graham
Nov 1, 2019 · 3 min read
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

You wake in a sweat, heart beating rapidly, and stare in terror as something sinister approaches your bed. You scream for it to go away. You thrash out wildly, but it still advances, evil oozing from its shapeless form.

Then you turn on the bedside light and it’s gone.

It’s not a nightmare, because you were awake the whole time. But there’s no evil being in your bedroom. There never was.

Living with night terrors can feel like you’re going crazy at night time. You’re positive you saw something for those few terrifying moments.

What are Night Terrors?

Psychologically speaking, a night terror (also called a sleep terror) is a sleep disorder that occurs during deep sleep.

Night terrors are different from nightmares because they happen during Stage 4 of sleep, whereas nightmares occur during Stage 5, known as REM.

Most children outgrow night terrors but according to research, approximately 5% of adults suffer from this sleep disorder.

I’m one of the few adults who has night terrors and also remembers them very clearly the next day.

How do you cure night terrors?

There’s no definitive cure, but you can use natural methods to ease night terrors and feel more in control about your sleep. According to research, the use of sleeping tablets or other medication to treat night terrors is rare because it doesn’t help the underlying problems that cause this sleep disorder.

Firstly, night terrors are commonly linked to stress and anxiety or an underlying condition such as sleep apnea. Therefore, it’s important to have a regular sleeping schedule so that you aren’t overtired when you go to sleep.

For children, having a quiet bedtime routine where they feel safe and relaxed is a good starting point. It’s also important not to wake a child who’s suffering from a night terror episode. As horrible as it is to witness, your child will eventually fall back asleep as if nothing happened, and probably won’t even remember it the next morning.

For adults, make sure you go to bed at the same time each night, minimise alcohol intake and try meditation or exercises throughout the day to ease your anxiety at night.

I noticed my night terrors peaked while I was a university student as I went to bed at irregular times, drank too much alcohol during weekends and wasn’t eating a healthy a diet. Once these factors changed, I noticed my night terrors began to ease.

While my night terrors haven’t completely disappeared, I feel as though I am managing them better. Most importantly, I don’t have them every night.

I believe night terrors are something you can grow out of as an adult, but they can recur when you have stressful periods in your life (like having a newborn, starting a new job and dealing with severe emotional crises).

Final words

Unfortunately, night terrors usually have a genetic factor, meaning that they can be passed down from parent to child.

My father suffered from night terrors but I’m the only child out of three daughters who inherited the disorder.

Experts say night terrors are more common in boys than girls, although they are equally present in adult men and women. With three young sons, I’ve already experienced heart-wrenching night-time episodes with my boys.

However, my sons’ don’t suffer from the night terrors every night, which is a small relief. I hope they’ll outgrow them by the time they’re adults, but if they do happen to remain, at least I can pass on my knowledge to help ease their anxiety and help them have a good sleep.

Lana Graham is Editor of Mama Write. She writes about parenting and her writing journey and lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner (her rock) and their three amazing sons. If you’d like my 3 Top Tips for being a successful new writer on Medium, then click here.

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Lana Graham

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Editor of Mama Write. Lover of tea and planner geek. Mama of 3 sons from Sydney, Australia. Visit my website at

Mama Write

Be a Mama and a Writer

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