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Nightmares and night terrors are both conditions that affect your quality of sleep. Here are some key differences that can help you differentiate the two.

Nightmares and night terrors are terms that are often used interchangeably. On the occasions when a differentiation is made, it’s assumed night terrors are simply more intense versions of nightmares, which isn’t true. While both situations are similar — both influence sleep quality sleep — there are some key differences that matter, especially if people don’t know the kind of condition that they’re dealing with.

Nightmares are very common, affecting most adults with varying degrees of regularity. While some people might have more nightmares than others, people can experience them without worrying about a deeper condition. Nightmares are more likely to occur when you’re disturbed by something, whether it’s an ongoing problem or stressor in your life or a scary movie you recently watched. New medications can also trigger bad and often vivid dreams.

When it comes to night terrors, this subset of bad dreams are far less common, especially in adults. These are a type of parainsomnia, which are disorders that disrupt sleep patterns and are known for their sudden episodes of fear, thrashing, screaming or kicking. They’re more prevalent in people with PTSD or mood and anxiety disorders.

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Night terrors differentiate themselves from nightmares mainly through intensity. People with night terrors  may find themselves sweating and breathing harshly, sleepwalking or sleeping with their eyes open. Unlike nightmares, which are easy to remember once awoken, night terrors are usually forgotten, making them difficult for people to spot unless they sleep with someone else who notices their sleep patterns.

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Photo by Devin Kleu via Unsplash

These types of sleep conditions are difficult to treat. Like most sleep issues, changes in lifestyle can help, especially if you develop a consistent bedtime routine. In order to prevent these, try to steer clear from scary content, whether that’s a TV show, a podcast or a novel.

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Cultivate relaxing activities, such as reading, putting puzzles together or meditating an hour or two before bedtime, encouraging a relaxing mood that can reduce your overall level of stress. (See: 5 Tips To Help You Fall Asleep Faster.) Make your bed and your room feel safe by cultivating a cozy environment, one where there are no sharp or fragile objects exposed, since these can hurt those who thrash or sleep walk.  

If your sleep habits or lifestyle choices are getting in the way of your life, you should visit a doctor. Sleep conditions are common, but once these start affecting your relationships, work and depleting you of your energy, they can quickly get out of hand. Sleep is an important part of your life, affecting almost every aspect of your health, from your mood to your weight. You should prioritize it and keep track of the warning signs.

Read more on The Fresh Toast