Night terrors: What causes them and how to get rid of them

Amanda Capritto, Jan. 20, 2021

Night terrors and nightmares both involve sleep and fear, but they differ in a couple of ways. One key difference is the time at which they happen, says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, psychiatrist and sleep physician at Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine.  Nightmares are scary dreams that usually occur during REM sleep, which is when dreams occur, Dimitriu says. This means nightmares commonly occur in the second half of the night, or early morning. Night terrors, on the other hand, more often occur during deep sleep, which is more clustered in the first half of the night, he says. People generally wake up with night terrors around 90 minutes after falling asleep. Additionally, during nightmares, people usually wake up and remember the dream, Dimitriu says. But with night terrors, “People wake up startled, scared and confused, with no recall of what they were dreaming,” he explains. 

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