People who experience nightmares may find themselves jolting awake in the middle of the night, often able to recall the terrifying dream that disrupted their sleep. Nightmares are common during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and they can sometimes lead to physical movements, such as jerking limbs.
However, a more intense experience can occur for those who have night terrors. Night terrors happen during the deep non-REM (rapid eye movement) stage four of sleep. They often cause individuals to suddenly sit up in bed in a state of panic, accompanied by terrified screams.
Unlike nightmares, where the dreamer usually remembers the content of the dream upon waking, individuals with night terrors often wake up feeling confused, disoriented, and groggy, with little to no memory of the dream. Night terrors may not be rooted in psychological fears but can be linked to physical issues that occur during sleep, such as breathing difficulties, accidental choking on saliva, or limbs becoming twisted unintentionally. This explains why people often report sensations of gasping, being crushed, or choking during night terrors.
While nightmares can last for several minutes, night terrors are usually over in a matter of one or two minutes. During this brief time frame, heart rate and breathing rates can double within seconds. If the terror doesn't fully awaken the person, they might start sleepwalking. It's worth noting that night terrors are most common in children and tend to diminish as individuals grow older.
Artists and emotionally sensitive individuals may experience nightmares more frequently than others, though the exact reasons behind why people have nightmares remain uncertain.