It happened again last night – another bad dream. This time, my brain had decided to combine people I know with the creatures from a horror series I recently watched, and have them chase me around my own mind.
As is usually the case, it took a moment to claw my way back to reality. Just as the intangible shadow creatures had tried with my body, the nightmare itself refused to let go of my mind until I could shake it free.
Eventually, I was able to take a deep breath, tell myself that it was just another bad dream, and get up to make a cup of tea before going back to sleep.
Sound familiar? Nightmares are no fun – neither to experience yourself nor to see someone you care about having.
Fortunately, I don’t get them as often as I used to when I was younger. But on average I remember having a bad dream at least a couple of times a month, even in my forties. So it’s a sleep problem I’ve been keen to explore, and even keener to find a solution to.
In this article, I’ll be taking a look at both nightmares and night terrors, and sharing some of the good advice I’ve come across. First tip: don’t watch ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ late at night!
The difference between nightmares and night terrors
Nightmares and night terrors are similar in some respects, but with some key differences:
A nightmare is a dream which causes strong feelings of distress, fear, terror or anxiety. Classic examples include being chased or attacked, running but not getting anywhere, intruders in the home, flashbacks to traumatic experiences, or even just bad arguments with people you care about.
Many adults still get nightmares, even though psychologists believe that children and adolescents experience them more often.
They tend to occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, which is why they often happen later in the night.
People don’t usually move or make noises when having a nightmare. But when you wake up, you might remember it all too clearly, perhaps still feeling anxious or scared.
A key difference with night terrors is that you don’t usually wake up during an episode or even remember it. You may have some recollection of feeling scared in the morning though.
So it’s often someone else, particularly a child’s parent, who has to deal with the unpleasantness of the experience.
Usually occurring in children between 3 and 12 years old, they might suddenly start screaming, moving around in bed erratically, rolling, kicking or lashing out.
They could even sit upright and look awake during the episode, but they won’t respond if you talk to them or touch them.
It can be very disturbing to witness someone expressing terror like this. Fortunately thoug, the child will usually settle down after a few minutes.
Night terrors typically occur during the transition from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep into REM sleep. This usually occurs a couple of hours after falling asleep.
How parents can help children with night terrors
If you think your child is in the middle of a night terror, here are some practical steps you could try:
- Don’t try to wake the child up during an episode of night terrors. Just wait patiently with them until they settle down naturally.
- If the child is thrashing about, make sure they don’t hit themselves or injure themselves.
- Talk to them during the day to see if anything is particularly worrying or stressing them which you can then work on.
- Make sure they have a consistent bedtime routine.
- Make sure they get enough sleep and aren’t getting too tired.
- You can also take the advice from the next section about nightmares.
How parents can help children having nightmares
You are unlikely to be able to completely stop your child from having nightmares. However, you can take some steps to help them relax and feel like going to sleep is good if they are worried about having bad dreams.
- Ensure they have a regular bedtime and consistent bedtime routine.
- Spend time with them before bed doing something that makes them feel happy, secure and cozy. For example, a bath, reading a book, snuggling or talking about the day.
- Make sure their bed is comfy, cozy, warm (not hot), and peaceful. Having a favorite teddy bear or night light can help.
- Don’t let them watch or read anything scary before bed, or play any games which can be scary or make them anxious.
- Read one of many excellent children’s books written specifically to help kids with anxiety about monsters and the dark. Searching online will reveal many lists of great examples of these.
What you can do if a child wakes up scared from a nightmare
Unlike sleep terrors, children sometimes wake up from a nightmare and can understandably be worried about falling asleep again.
In fact, adults may also experience this after a particularly bad dream. You can try the following to help them settle back down:
- Talk about what happened, tell them it’s a bad dream, but reassure them that it wasn’t real and isn’t going to happen in the real world. This only needs to be a brief conversation, but just some words of comfort can go a long way.
- Let them know you are there, and that they are safe with you there.
- Let them know it’s normal to have a bad dream and that everyone has them sometimes.
- You can provide reassurance by checking everywhere in the room for monsters. Some say not to do this as is condones the worrying. My personal view is that it’s reassuring, as I remember my own dad doing it from time to time in a funny way. It made me giggle and relax, which is better than going to sleep feeling scared.
- Switch on some ambient lighting or night light.
- Make sure they have a favorite teddy bear, blanket or comforter.
- The next day it might also help to talk to them about it again. You could bring it into the art world with some drawing to make it seem less scary, or perhaps even some role play to make the monster or whatever it might have been seem silly, fun and less threatening.
If your child is having nightmares or night terrors to the extent that it’s disturbing their daily life, mood, development or health, it’s important to discuss it with a medical professional.
They might refer you to a sleep specialist who will hopefully find a way to help your family further. This can be particularly useful if the child is having recurrent nightmares, or is having them as a result of a traumatic event.
How to cope with nightmares as an adult
Having nightmares as an adult is nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve had all kinds of bizarre and unpleasant nightmares over the years.
There are a few factors which might trigger nightmares, so you can start by having a think about whether these apply to you or not:
- Drinking alcohol, especially late in the evening.
- Too much caffeine, again late in the day might be worse.
- Taking recreational drugs.
- Smoking cigarettes before bed.
- Doing heavy exercise shortly before bed.
- Watching or playing a violent or scary film or computer game in the evening (I’m guilty of this one!).
- Eating late at night. Even small bedtime snacks can trigger nightmares.
- An illness that induces a fever.
- Breathing disorders in sleep, such as apnea. If you have any breathing problems when you sleep, it’s essential you consult a doctor about it.
In addition to the above ideas, here are some other points you might like to consider which could help:
- Some medications can cause nightmares. You can check the known side effects online or ask for your doctor’s advice.
- Stress, anxiety, and worry can cause sleep disruption. It might help to address this in your life, or even do simple relaxation exercises in bed.
- Major life events can be stressful. Moving house, relationship, money or work issues, and traumatic experiences can all trigger nightmares. Talk to family or friends, or seek professional help if you’re finding something in your life overwhelming.
- As with kids, having a stable sleep schedule can be helpful.
- Try to do some exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk.
- Keep the bedroom relatively cool if possible. Feeling too hot (or too cold) in bed can disrupt sleep.
- Keep a dream and nightmare diary. Recording what you experience can sometimes help to make it seem less out of control.
- Do some positive thinking or visualization while you lie in bed. Some people believe you can influence your dreams purely by telling yourself what you want to dream about.
If you feel like you’ve already tried all the self-help techniques and lifestyle changes under the moon, to no avail, here are a few more suggestions to consider.
Ask for a referral to a sleep specialist or sleep center
If your nightmares are interfering with your daily life and functioning, it might be time for specialist help. Your doctor can refer you to a sleep specialist if they think it’s necessary and possible.
Your doctor could also recommend taking medication, especially if there’s the possibility that a form of trauma is playing a role in your sleep problems. Talking therapy, such as imagery rehearsal therapy, might also be an avenue they suggest.
Imagery rehearsal therapy
Imagery rehearsal therapy has shown promise as a treatment for nightmares, especially for those who experience recurring nightmares with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It involves working with a therapist to try to change your dreams by visualizing them happening differently while you’re awake.
It’s also thought that it can help people who just have recurring bad dreams, even without the PTSD element. Although it’s better to do this with a therapist, it can also be tried alone.
There are three basic steps to trying imagery rehearsal therapy yourself:
- Write down a summary of the recurring dream, or the most recent nightmare you’ve had.
- Think of a way the nightmare can be changed to be less frightening. You should use your intuition to work out how to do this.
- Spend a few minutes every day visualizing your improved version of the nightmare.
Clearly, seeking professional advice is going to be helpful, as a therapeutic technique is rarely explained effectively in three bullet points!
Lucid Dreaming and embracing your nightmares
There have been some studies suggesting that lucid dreaming treatment (LDT) can be an effective way to stop nightmares.
The idea is that you train yourself to become aware that you’re in the middle of a dream or nightmare, and then either alter it or wake yourself up.
If that idea interests you, then even further than that is the idea of actually embracing you nightmares through lucid dreaming and using them as a tool for spiritual and/or psychological growth.
The following video, which was originally on a TEDtalk, explains this idea in an entertaining and fascinating way:
It’s not all bad!
Nightmares and creativity
It might not provide much comfort to nightmare sufferers, but there’s an interesting theory which suggests a positive side to nightmares – more creativity.
Researchers at the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal conducted a study of 28 people, comparing those who had regular nightmares with those who said they didn’t.
The team gave the participant a form of word association test before and after sleep. And they concluded that the nightmare sufferers displayed characteristics associated with creativity:
Nightmare sufferers may access broader than normal emotional semantic networks in the wake state, a difference that may lead to this group being perceived as more creative.
However, it’s not clear if nightmares really improve creativity, or if creative and emotionally sensitive people are more prone to nightmares.
Either way, it might provide some solace to know that your nightmares could be a sign that you have a creative mind!
Nightmares and fear rehearsal
Why do we even have to have nightmares in the first place?
Why hasn’t our brain evolved to stick to dreams about holidays on a deserted beach with self-refilling cocktails? Is adding giant flesh-eating mosquitoes really necessary?
Well, perhaps there’s a useful side to unpleasant dreams, as a team of Swiss and American researchers found in 2019.
They studied the brain activity of people while they were experiencing bad dreams. And they found that when the participants woke after having them, the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions when faced by situations that provoke fear were more effective.
In science daily, one of the study authors explained:
Dreams may be considered as a real training for our future reactions and may potentially prepare us to face real life dangers
This is in line with the classic theory about why we dream in general – that dreams are like a mental sandbox in which we can practice for real life. One caveat in the study was that bad dreams might be useful for this purpose, but more intense nightmares can be counterproductive.
Still, it’s almost reassuring to know my brain isn’t just torturing me at night, but trying its best to prepare me for future problems.
If only I could tell it I’m quite happy with my current level of preparation and don’t need any more practice!
What kind of nightmares do you or your child have? What do you find makes them more or less frequent? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
Our son has been suffering with night terrors for approximately 3 years now. They started when he started pre-k.
He’ll wake up crying and babbling words and shaking….he acts extremely terrified. At times he soils or wets himself.
I have taken him to counselors and several Doct. Appointments.
He has had several test and scans and we took him to a neurologist.
Every test and scan came back normal!
I’ve researched and read so much in order to help my son.
I have noticed that if he eats a snack after 7 that he’ll most definitely have a night terror….so we have eliminated a late bedtime snack.
I have also noted that when he wakes with a night terror….if I assist him with going to the bathroom, the night terror will not last as long and he will not soil or wet himself.
We read bedtime stories and cuddle him every night, he has always had a bedtime schedule. We’ve tried night lights, essential oils….we’ve tried almost every remedy that you can think of….I even went so far as to have a medium come to my home.
It’s heartbreaking to see our son go thru these.
Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that we will indeed have to wait for these terrors to stop when he finally outgrows them.
Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’re dealing with this – it must be very stressful seeing him like that. I’d say to keep going with the positive things your doing, and try any ideas in the article you haven’t so far. As you say though, it might just be a question of time. And hopefully that won’t be too long!
Our kid had the same problem from about one years old until about five years old. He continued bed wetting and soiling until about 11 years old. I finally read an article he may have a sleep disorder and after a visit to an ENT and a Neurologist, we confirmed through sleep study, he had sleep hypopnea. He had his tonsils and adenoids out and that was the end of the accidents and his hyperactivity. He quit snoring, kicking, sleepwalking and wetting his pants about three days after the surgery. It was a horrible time for us and I wished I knew when he was two, what it took us many years later to figure out. Not one Physician every considered a sleep disorder :(
Hey I’m Kyle and keep having a recurring topic in my nightmares. It is typically me in class and I am called out for my awful grade on a test or something similar. Not sure if you still answer these emails or something but it’d be cool to hear from you what I should do to get these to stop.
Thanks for your comment. It’s not so easy to stop your dreams. Try the ideas in the article if you like, and perhaps try relaxation techniques before going to bed. Maybe you’re worried about your grades, in which case talking to your family about it might be a positive thing to do. If it is connected to school stress, it’s good to talk this through with someone, and hopefully they can help you feel better about your school work.
I received a dream catcher from a friend who had bad spirits in her house. she used to see things and hear stuff as well. her mom and her use to wake up with marks from something. they even have a cat and it used to run in their room terrified after seeing something. I have always had nightmares but they died down. After putting up my dreamcatcher i have had terrible nightmares and most nights its the same nightmare over and ove again. I have had nightmares that seem so real such as someone all covered in black walking up my stairs holding a candle and walking into my sisters room. I hear someone walking in the middle of the night in her room and also my boyfriend said he saw someone waving from outside her room. All my nightmares are based in her room and sometimes i have called out to her because i thought she was the one to get up but it wasnt. Are dream catchers bad???
Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I think the reality is that dream catchers are just pretty mobiles, with no good or bad about them. But if you feel it’s making your sleep worse, get rid of it and see what happens.
Recently i suffered from a nightmare where i was being followed by strange ghosts with their heads veiled by a black cloth. It was so disturbing that when i woke up i was thankful that it was just a dream. Should i buy a dreamcatcher?
Thanks for your comment. If you think a dreamcatcher will make you feel better, and more reassured, then why not? But I can’t promise it will stop you having nightmares, unfortunately. It’s quite normal to have bad dreams, so try not to worry about it too much. You can try the tips in the article, but also, it’s good to understand that it’s a normal thing.
I’m 35 years old and have been having the same type of dream since I was a child. I dream that I’m losing control of the wheel of a vehicle and wrecking. When I was younger, I believe I was just riding in the car that was wrecking. I wake up right before I crash screaming, sometimes falling onto the floor. When I’m stressed it happens more. It does happen even when I’m not stressed. Probably twice a week. I wish I had a solution to end this problem.
If you keep having that nightmare since you were a child I would recommend going to see a doctor and they might be able to help you.
I have struggled with continuous nightmares for as long as I can remember. Every night the horror is generally different but they are so vivid that I wake up at least 3 times a night if not more. I’m thinking they maybe PTSD related due to different traumas I have experienced in my life. I am aware in my dreams and can literally tell my subconscious that I am dreaming. I cannot change what occurs though. I have not slept well in months and when I wake up I have to walk around my house for a bit until I get get my self together and then I go back to sleep and the dream picks up right where it left off…. Any suggestions would be great I am taking melatonin currently but it is beginning to no longer work and I refuse to take pharmaceutical drugs…
Thanks for your comment. If you have nightmare, perhaps the melatonin could be making them more vivid? If you try going without it for a week, you can see if it’s having an impact.
And if you feel your nightmares could be connected to trauma, it might be good to speak to a professional about that.
I was in bed last night, everything went well but then I woke up at 12:00am and I remember having a dream of being chased by zombies on a tennis court, I had woke up in such a Shock I feared I coudnt get out of bed, I was terrified.I finally did go to sleep but when I woke up, I remembered so clearly, it frightens me, I have told my mum about it, she says not to play violent games,I read your info on violent games.But I do not play realistic gun games have you heard of (pixel gun 3D) I play that but there’s no blood or anything it’s like Minecraft.I am only 12 years old)
Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, nightmares are very common and sometimes they just happen even if there isn’t anything obvious to cause them. Being chased is one of the most common types of dreams. Some say it’s because it’s a place where our brain can practice what it might do in real life in a scary situation. Obviously you don’t need to practise running away from zombies, but it could be just the brain putting something scary into the dream. It doesn’t really matter if it’s zombies, dogs, people – it’s the idea of practising your skills at escaping. That’s just one theory about why we dream, but I like it because it can help to see the dream/nightmare in a positive way: it’s your brain making you better at things even while you sleep!
I think if you keep having them, and they are upsetting you, it’s good to talk to your mum about them. I don’t think that game is a scary one from what I can tell, but it is violent in concept. So maybe it’s influencing your dreams. The only way to find out would be to stop playing for a week and see if you have more bad dreams.
As read I feel my 5years old boy is having night terrors.All the symptoms relate but one extra move is that my child vomits along with awakening.He does not remember anything in the morning but that is very upsetting for me as a mother.I am been struggling with this from last 3years which is disturbing me internally.How should I deal with it.Plese help.
Thanks for your comment. That must be very upsetting for you to deal with, as well as for him. I think that it’s important to get a professional medical opinion in this situation. Only a doctor will really be able to help your son I think.
well i think this could help me to get rid of my nightmares, the worst nightmares i’ve ever seen where the pirates of the carribean was after me, oh my god, i remember everything so cleary that i can make a movie on it, the terror after awakening at nearly 4 am, this was third nightmare this week., and i can’t even tell to my parents, it feels so shameful having nightmares at the age of 16, but it cleary looks like i have my answer now, as you have said it in article playing violent computer games just before doing the bed can lead to having such horrible nightmares, i remember i was playing prince of persia: warrior within just before going to bed so this was the reason, thank you and i think i need to take ome professional help, am already suffering by the symptoms of gamer’ss thumb and i just don’t want another side effect of playing the video games late night.
Thanks for your comment. I think it’s good to talk about dreams and nightmares – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you might find even your parents sometimes have bad dreams. But yes, it sounds like it might benefit you to reduce the game playing late at night. Try giving yourself a gap of at least an hour before bed with no gaming and see if it helps.
We have been having a lot of trouble with our now 2 and 1/2 yr old daughter for the last 18 months with her sleeping, waking every 2-3 hrs most nights. she has night terrors most likely every night usually 1-2 hrs in And on rare ocassions she has a severe night mare where for hours and some times days latter she thinks things are on her legs or arms or floor or walls and grabs at her self or looks around the room petrified and screaming she is completely awake after these so I’m assuming this is a night made?. Its awful to see her like this and very hard to get her comfortable again in her room. We are hoping too see a sleep studies clinic at end of this year.
Thanks for your comment. I can understand how difficult that must be for you to see and deal with. If she wakes fully afterwards, it’s more likely to be a nightmare. Hopefully the sleep study will be able to shed some light for you, but in the meantime you could try some of the ideas in the article and see if they help a little.
Hi I am Amordeep from india i have been facing nightmare problem it happens atlest one in a week like in my dream someone attacking me and after that i can’t sleep i wait for sun to rise and then i go to sleep and when i got this attack i find some breathing issue and this makes me frighten to sleep at night and i also faced the problem of sleep paralyz almost 5years and after that now this nightmare what to do?it really hurts and embress me!
Thanks for your comment. It sounds to me like maybe you’re waking up from the nightmare and then feeling extremely anxious. Do you think the breathing issue is a physical thing, or related to the fear and anxiety of the dream?
I think you could speak to your doctor to rule out a physical cause for the breathing problem. But also, you might find it helpful to do some relaxation exercises in bed or another room when you wake from a nightmare, and then try to sleep again.
Have a look at these relaxation techniques for some ideas.
Thanx for your suggestion i shall try it definitly.
You’re welcome – I hope it helps.
Hey, this is Rini…I’m from India and at first I apologize for my bad grammar..
I’ve been having nightmares since last 7-8 months.. I had dreams since childhood.. And I love dreams .. I really love to watch pictures or you can say scenes while sleeping .. Its always kind of interesting topic for me.. But it gets worse day by day when this dreams become nightmares. If I slept for 5 mins for taking a nap between my study , I got attacked by nightmares .. At night , my sleeps get interrupts about 7-8 times .. My parents thinks that its just because of that horror movies.. But seriously, its not at all… I had nightmares that I have been possessed by someone…something is watching me 24*7.. Or I’m dead and I am roaming in my room here and there and no one can see me.. I really what is happening.. Can you suggest me something that I can fight against it..
Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’ve had nightmares for so long. If you do watch horror films or any scary TV, I’d definitely suggest stopping completely. The brain can be heavily influenced by watching them. And other than the tips in the article, perhaps focus on putting happy, pleasant, nice thoughts and images into your head before you go to bed. Perhaps watch or read something funny or happy. Maybe that will help too.
Im only 18 but for the longest time i have awful night terrors and nightmares. This week alone, i’ve woken up every night from a nightmares. Sometimes, i get so paranoid and terrified that i cant fall asleep again, convinced that there’s something in or under my bed. And when i have night terrors, i am completely unaware of my actions and till someone comes in. It stresses me out because im afraid of my own subconcious. How can i stop this?
Thanks for your comment. Sorry you’ve been having such a horrible time with the nightmares and night terrors. I think perhaps you could try the points I mention in the article. But also, if it’s happening that regularly and causing you a lot of stress, I’d speak to your doctor and see if they can help out. Perhaps they could recommend a talking therapist to help you work through this. I’d also try to think about what might be causing you stress in life, and see if you can work on that too. If you can talk to your family or close friends, I’d also do that. Perhaps by talking about it openly and getting some support, you’ll find it easier to deal with – both the nightmares and any related stress.
I’ve been having nightmares since I was little. Some are scary,romantic and refreshing. Now that I’m an adult. I’ve be in a relationship with my son’s father for 13yrs. It’s not wine and dine relationship. I’ve be an a abusive relationship mentality,verbally and physical. I can’t sleep at night because I’m scared I won’t wake up. I feel held down,I’m calling for help.I’ll be yelling in my sleep, crying and talking. I’ve gone to counseling and she told me I have PTSD. Were in my dream I’m getting beatin up, door closing in my face, name calling ,dragged on the floor etc… pretty much what i went through . But it feels so REAL like I’m in it. I still have it until this day. Would like it to stop.
Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear you’ve had such a difficult time. I can’t quite decide from your comment if you’re saying you were in an abusive relationship in the past, hence the PTSD, or if you still are, hence being scared to sleep in case you wake up. Hopefully your counselor can continue to help you through the issues you have to deal with. But if you’re still in an abusive relationship, then I hope you can find the strength to take action. Nobody deserves to be in such a terrible situation, and I do hope that it’s in the past now. If not, please find someone you can talk to about it and get help in finding a way to get out of it.
In the past few years my dream to nightmare ratio shifted dramatically, so that in my dream journal I have to state when my subconscious decided to play nice. I remember almost all of them. They have strong characters and plots, too. Like my subconscious decided to write a story! Horrifying, evil stories, but stories nonetheless. I’m always playing a character, I’m rarely myself.
There are demons (who have names!), serial killers, world ending events, sad irreversible mistakes or devastating no-win situations.
I don’t know what causes it to happen, or if I can stop it. They don’t interrupt my sleep, though. I just sleep straight through. Lucid dreaming helps but I rarely have control, just awareness. If I’m lucky I can run or wake myself up.
Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you have a very good understanding of your nightmares and dreams. Perhaps in time you’ll develop the lucid dreaming further to the point that you can control and change your bad dreams. It seems like you already have some capacity to do it, so with some dedication and research you might find you can gain even better control.
I have been having nightmares and sleeping issues the last couple weeks. But the last couple nights I have developed night terrors (which I had as a child). And they are terrifying, yet not nightmares. What would be your advice for adult having night terrors?
Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid I don’t really have any advice beyond what I wrote in the article. I’d suggest giving those ideas a go, and if nothing worse and it starts disrupting your daily life, try asking your doctor for some advice.
Hello. I’ve been having this strang senario happen to me for the past 2 years with the frequency increasing in the past few months of 2016. I go to bed regularly not to late, and use a method of my own to avoid simple nightmares. Usually it works, but when it doesn’t, the nightmares are increased.
To put it simply, on certain nights, I will wake up from a nightmare, still think I am in it, and screech erraticly out of my room and sit terrified under the dining room table until I snap out of these episodes.
I’ve described this problem to many of my friends and family, especially the harm that could eventually come to the person that could potentially be in the building, seeing how twice I grabbed a knife and was prepared to stab anyone in the chest a multitude of times.
There’s so much more to tell but I don’t know how to tell it, right now I just want to stop this before I harm myself or my loved ones.
I’m a 46 y/o woman who had 1-2 night terrors as a child, then none until I was in my mid-late 20s. I’ve had a night terror at least once a month if not multiple times per week ever since. And I tend to wake up during them so I remember them vividly.
I went through a sleep study in my 30s which confirmed that I have night terrors even though they’re more night annoyances to me that I need to confront. Thankfully they’ve changed from the roof caving in (which would cause me to run to the front door in my PJs) to now… my husband and/or dogs (our only kids) being killed in their sleep.
Is there anything I can do to get rid of these annoying night terrors as an adult? Any little noise in the night could set one off so I sleep with ear plugs every night just in case. :(
Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately I don’t have much more advice for you than already listed in the article. Though if noise is a factor, you would try using a white noise machine too as an alternative to earplugs – if you don’t find they work well enough.
I have been having nightmares/night terrors since 2007 and even before. I am 72 years old. As of today, 11 April 2016, I have them nightly and usually cannot remember much about them other than I am usually afraid for my life. Sometimes my husband says I awake? crying out in fear, chatting happily, or unhappily, with someone. We are both losing sleep every night. Any suggestions?
Thanks for your comment. I think perhaps you could try the advice In my opinion, the article first and foremost. But if it’s happening nightly and affecting both your lives, perhaps you could get some advice from your doctor if you need some respite from the constant sleep disturbance.
I’ve been having recurring nightmares for the past year and a half. It’s always the same. For some reason, no idea why, in my dreams my boyfriend continues to hurt me physically and verbally. In real life, he’s nothing like that and I know he wouldn’t hurt me. I’ve even had a dream I was pregnant with his child and he caused me to miscarry by kicking me in the stomach. I’m constantly waking up crying. My boyfriend knows all about these dreams as he’s seen me wake from them and I’ve told him everything. I don’t know what to do anymore. Sometimes I’m scared to go to sleep in fear I’ll have another nightmare. I’ve even thought of taking sleeping pills but I don’t want to have to ask my mom to get them for me since I don’t drive even at the age of almost 26 and I have to rely on my mom for everything because I still live with her. I’m afraid of telling my mom about the dreams too. I just know she’ll think I’m crazy and that I’m exaggerating. I’m stuck but I don’t want these dreams anymore. What do I do?
Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear you’ve had these problems with nightmares. It’s hard to say what might be causing the repeat dreams about your boyfriend. Maybe there’s an element of stress or anxiety involved. You could try doing relaxation techniques in bed before sleeping. And since its a recurring theme, you could also try imagining positive dreams with your boyfriend before going to bed. And you could perhaps talk to a friend instead, as you might find talking about it helps you worry less about it.
I am all very new to this night terror thing. But my 5 year old has been waking at 12:20 am in the morning on the dot the past few nights and screaming that he doesn’t want me and that I am crying and that he just wants to go outside, all the while he looks nothing like himself! He is shaking and screaming and talking pure (for lack of a better word) craziness. I am not crying at this point and he is saying that his stomache hurts, i just don’t know why there is nothing out of the usual happining at home and he is on a regular schedual. Sleeping and otherwise. After he finally calms down about 7 to 30 minutes he just says in his normal voice good night mom I’m tired and lays down. I ask him if hes fine and he say yeah good night mom I love you. The next morning he remembers nothng. I just wanted to seek a little more information or maybe just support, thank you.
Thanks for your comment. It’s very understandable that you’d find this distressing. Seeing your child going through what at the time must seem like an awful experience will always pull at the heart strings. I know you say nothing is unusual at home, but it still might be worth asking if there’s anything worrying or bothering him. You never know – it could even be something little that he just hasn’t vocalized. And then again, it could just be a natural part of his childhood, which may be difficult to prevent. You can also try to spend nice relaxing time before bed, reading stories with only happy imagery in them for example, if you don’t already.
And perhaps some other parents who read your comment will have some further ideas.
I experienced yet another night terror/nightmare last night and found myself today searching online to find some kind of answer.
I’m 28 years old and have had this sleep problem since I was a young teenager and it’s always the same reason that I wake up, that there is an unwanted presence in the room and that they are trying to kill me. It’s when the weapon or a mans face comes towards me that I wake up screaming. Yet every time I can’t say who it is or why. But I wake up most of the time screaming and with my heart racing, which is what scares me the most, as I sometimes wonder how my body could cope with that if it were to happen when I’m older and my heart is weaker. Luckily my partner helps me relax again and I head back to sleep. I have noticed they occur when I am going through a phase of restless nights and that when I do eventually fall asleep the episode happens within the first few hours.
I have had a fairly troubled upbringing and can easily blame it on that that there is something much deeper to the whole problem but whatever it is I would love to solve the sleep issue and just finally go to sleep without worrying if I will have a nice dream or a disturbed night with what feels like a panic attack. at the moment it happens about once a month and at bad times once a week. But there are also times when they completely go, but seem to always come back.
Thanks for your comment. I can appreciate how it must be upsetting to wake up like that. But I think we do develop an ability to cope with the physiological effects of nightmares, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much.
If you do feel that you have some unresolved issues, then perhaps you’d benefit from some talking therapy? There are lots of great counselors, therapists etc out there who can help you work through things which may still be affecting you in life. I don’t know whether it will stop the nightmares, but it’s worth a shot if you feel there’s a connection.
I had a Night Terrors and i’m frighten to go back to sleep because I also just had it last night. And when I woke up from it was like my toys where looking at me and I felt lite headed. So please help me what can I do? To make it stop. I don’t want another one tonight. I’m only 12.
Thanks for your comment. I can understand why you found it so upsetting. It’s not a nice thing to wake up feeling scared. Do you speak to your family about it? I think it’s important that they know, and can help you feel safe and secure when you go to bed. They might also be able to get you a nice night-light which can help you feel less worried when you wake up. Have you been feeling stressed or upset about anything recently? Sometimes that can make night terrors worse. If there’s something in life which is bothering you, try to find someone you can talk to about that too. And importantly, try not to allow the worry of another one happening from letting you sleep. Do something relaxing and nice before you go to bed, and put yourself in a happy mood if you can.
All the best
I have a close friend of mine who has a lot of difficulty sleeping. She has depression and anxiety, which may be a part of it. She has told me that most nights when she sleeps she has nightmares. These have affected her so much to the point that she doesn’t sleep much at all anymore. She has been sometimes going for 24 hours or more without sleeping. Basically she stays awake until she passes out from fatigue because she is too afraid. I do not know what the nightmares are about, I don’t want to push her to tell me anything, but if I do ask and we talk about them could it help?
I myself also have anxiety and depression and have also experienced nightmares and night terrors in the past. Mine are less frequent than what my friend says hers are, but they have affected me a lot. I do get to sleep later than I should most nights however, unlike my friend, I am too afraid of the consequences of not sleeping. So no matter how scared of the nightmares I am, or even if I have a bad or horrifying sleep, I still force myself to try to get 5 hours (2 is the least I’ve had in the past few months) each night. Honestly by forcing myself to sleep for at least a few hours I think it sometimes helps me sleep the next night. it isn’t the best, but it creates somewhat like a sleep schedule.
I do really need to know how I can help my friend. I don’t think she will think like how I do but I don’t want her to keep suffering. I could tell her about my own experiences and how I am dealing with it, but I don’t want her to worry about me because of what I tell her, which I know her worrying is likely possibility.
Any help would be very much appreciated.
Thanks for your comment. I can understand your concern for your friend, and it’s great that she has someone who obviously cares about her as much as you do. When we have difficulties in life, a strong support network is one of the most important things to help us get through. I think that talking about her nightmares may well help her. It might not stop them, but it might help her to cope during the day and release some of the build of stress or anxiety that it might be causing her. You can always try to tell her about yours first in a casual way and see if that leads to her wanting to share. People often do have dream sharing conversations, and it’s natural to share one of your own when someone tells you one. If you think that you can tell her without upsetting her, then at some point she might find it helpful to talk to her doctor and ask to see a sleep specialist. if it’s disrupting her life so much, they might be able to help a lot. And the same might also apply to yourself if you find it negatively affecting your life.
I am having a recurring chronic nightmare/terror where it is waking up my whole family with me screaming out for help, I think I am but to them the words dnt come out its just weird noises. I experience pain in the dreams & physically feel it. I knw that I am trying to scream out to someone in the house to wake me up so the pain can stop but as well in the dream I keep trying to hurt myself so I can wake up with knives, glass whatever & then all sharp things turn to rubber so I can’t do this. I do wake up but fall asleep again returning to the same nightmare, my son has said this goes on for hours. Any suggestions of help as they are starting to really affect me in a negative way as they are a weekly occurance. Please help. Thanks Jo
Thanks for your comment, and I’m sorry you’ve been having such a stressful recurring dream. I can understand why it must be upsetting. Perhaps you could try the dream re-imaging idea yourself. Try to visualize the dream during the day, how it starts, and then imagine alternative events happening which are nicer.
If it’s getting to the point where it’s affecting your quality of life, then you could always talk to your doctor and get their advice. And it also might help to do some relaxation exercises before going to bed.
A couple of months ago my grandad passed away, I keep having a recurring nightmare that he is dying all over again and I can’t help him, these dreams are long and strung out and very distressing. I wake up unable to breathe and in tears. It’s not as if by the morning I have forgotten it, the dream stays with me all day and is starting to affect my day to day life. I’ve tried most things to stop it happening but it’s hopeless.
I’m sorry to hear about your grandad passing away. It’s obviously been a very distressing period of time with the nightmares since then. Have you tried speaking to anyone about it and the way it’s affecting you? Perhaps some grief counseling would help you to express what’s going on for you, and help you to find ways to cope which might then in turn reduce the intensity and frequency of the nightmares. Sometimes I think it’s good to have an external ear to listen to you you, especially if it’s a trained professional who is skilled at helping people work their way through the intense and overwhelming emotion which comes at times like these.
I’ve been having nightmares the last few months. I have moderate fibromyalgia, work in an extremely stressful profession, too many hours and then on top of that-work double shifts frequently, and sometimes days (and nights) continually-no breaks except necessary biological output breaks. So, having poor conditions for sleep due to work requirements doesn’t help. I’ve also had a change in medications for my not-so-friendly FMS. I’m the perfect storm for poor sleep, and now add nightmares to the mix. I’m glad I found this website, and will try to augment. One thing I didn’t see any one mention were “movie dreams” where there is a distinct set of characters, a plot, a story line, a beginning, middle and an end. No matter if you get up to go to the lobby for a while, when you come back and go back to sleep, the dream continues. Sometimes 3 or 4 times, until the movie is over. Or the worst, dreams within dreams within drams within dreams within dreams, and I have to wake myself up, so many times until I’m really sure that I’m awake in the real world. I’m probably nuts, but other than poor sleeping conditions (and the craving for quality sleep when I can get the time for it), and these crazy dream time episodes, I really am a pretty happy person.
Hi Momma Dee
Thanks for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having problem sleeping. It’s amazing how much stress can affect our sleep, so I think if you recognise that as a factor, it’s important to try to do something to reduce the stress in your life, even if it’s just little things like taking a bit of time out before going to bed to do some relaxation techniques.
I think you’ll probably find it’s more common than you think for people to have movie-like dreams, and to pick up where they left off if they wake for a short while.
As for the dreams within dreams, and not being sure if you’re awake or not, that sounds like it could be what’s know nas false awakenings. Have a read of that article linked there, and you’ll probably find it makes sense.
I guess what is clear from this is that night terrors are very distressing, pretty common and difficult to eradicate. I am not a doctor. However, I have a 20-year old son whose life is blighted by them. I tried EVERYTHING to help through childhood – he only had organic milk from evening milked cows for example. Nothing helped. Until now. We are exploring nutritional approaches with some success. For him gluten is a major factor. I wish I had known this when he was a baby.
I think there is no quick cure but night terrors can be indicators of something that is stressing the body and mind – and that stressor can be allergy and foreign protein in the bloodstream/ brain.
I would urge everyone to explore this for themselves. It is helping my son beyond measure – and bear in mind, when you do find a dietary culprit and you exclude it, symptoms can get worse before they get better.
Wishing you all peace and relief from this difficult thing x
Thanks for your comment and very interesting ideas about the effects of nutrition. It’s known that your diet can make a huge impact on quality of sleep in general, so it doesn’t surprise me that for some people, diet might exacerbate certain sleep disorders.
I’m glad your son has found a way to help reduce the problem and hopefully it continues that way.
Thanks for this Article. I have applied most of the tricks mentioned above, however, first time I came to know through your Article that breathing problems also can cause nightmares. Though I am taking medicine for the same but no relief in nightmares. I would like to share that I am 34 and still have both nightmares and night terrors also. You wont believe but I have few dreams which repeatedly come like running behind a train and missing it, someone’s death, having sex, stressful working in some marriage functions, etc. etc. Bad thing that even if I get up during these dreams, trying to sleep again gives the same dream. Most of the times I scream during dreams seeing a ghost and my wife or mother wakes me up. I feel really bad. Pls help.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. Sorry to hear you’re having such problems with both nightmares and night terrors. Unfortunately there’s not much more I can offer beyond what’s in the article and subsequent comments. Have you spoken to your doctor about it though? Perhaps they might be able to offer some help. I wonder also if you’re regularly having those kind of dreams, if you’re under a lot of stress or anxiety in life at the moment? Perhaps that’s manifesting in the nightmares? You might find it helpful to try some of the relaxation techniques before bed, or even in bed before going to sleep, to see if you can settle your mind before falling asleep. Have a look at the section about relaxation exercises for sleep to see if anything helps.
Hi, I appreciate your article. My 3 year old son has been having nighy night terrors about 2 hours after he falls asleep and then nightmares around 3 or 4 in the morning. His home life is easy and is pretty stress free. He did drop his nap recently so I try to put him to bed early. I try imagery but he’s a little young and gave him a night light and talk about him becoming friends with the monsters. Last night he stood up in bed and pulled the monitor down screaming during a night terror. We recently took him off of Flovent and hope that may help per his doctor’s suggestion. It is so hard to see him go through this every night. If you have any other ideas for how to work with a 3 year old, I am open to pretty much anything!
Thanks for your comment, and I’m very sorry to hear you’ve both been having such difficult time with his sleep. I can imagine it must be upsetting for you to deal with. It sounds like you’ve been doing the right things, and having the doctor involved is a good thing too, especially if there is any medication involved. The only extra advice I have beyond the original article is to spend lots of time before bed giving your son a familiar, repeated happy, calm and loving routine. This could be reading nice books – one with no monsters or dinosaurs. The key is to create a familiar routine which is calming and happy for him.
You could also join a good parenting forum, for example mumsnet, and ask other mums for advice. You might already find lots of info. and ideas for dealing with sleep problems for your son’s age if you look around.
Above all, try not to allow it to stress you out too much. It’s very common, and something he will hopefully grow out of soon enough. Until then, stay strong.
All the best
Thanks for the article. Do you have information about how to stop night terrors in adults when they do not have access to a therapist or a sleep study clinic? I have been suffering from night terrors for many months now and I’ve tried to stop them from what I can learn on the internet but nothing has worked. They’ve been messing up my life for a while now, and unfortunately I cannot just get up and go to a doctor like most people can.
Do you have any advice for me?
Thank your for your comment. Sorry to hear that you’ve been having such problems with night terrors. I’m afraid I don’t have any further advice beyond all the tips already in the article. I tried to write as comprehensive an article as possible with lots of different self-help ideas. I recommend having another read and seeing if there is something you missed. And perhaps look into the Imagery Rehearsal Therapy idea, even if you don’t have PTSD. You could also maybe do some research and see if you can find a counselor who is training and so offering free or discounted sessions. And sometimes sleep clinics look for volunteers for studies. It’s worth investigating at least.
I’ve found your articles very interesting.
I’m 58 now, but from my early childhood up until my early 30’s I frequently had these terrifying sleep disturbances.
Most often they occurred shortly after falling asleep, but not always. In later years I noticed that they were more likely to occur when I was quite physically fatigued, and especially if I was lying on my back.
I would have the sensation of paralysis, trying to call out but being mute, and extreme terror. This was also usually accompanied by a buzzing sound, steady at first, but as the terror grew, becoming louder and more discordant. I also had a simultaneous visual disturbance, hard to describe, but very basically seeing and travelling across a flat smooth geometric plane ( mustard yellow in colour)when the buzzing started, which changed as the intensity grew into a jumbled yellow mess. This was also most disturbing, for some reason.
Eventually I would wake, and do my best to delay falling asleep again in case of a recurrence.
The frequency of this varied, sometimes on successive nights, and at other times weeks apart. At one stage I wondered whether it might be a form of epilepsy, but never saw a doctor about it.
Fortunately as I’ve aged I seem to have grown out of it – I hope.
Thank you for the comment and sharing your story. And I’m pleased you found the article interesting:-)
You mentioned feeling paralysed – do you know anything about sleep paralysis at all? You might find it interesting to read the article about that. And in particular there are so many reader comments there, it takes a good 2-3 hours to read them all! They are quite fascinating if you’ve ever had a similar experience.
Hopefully though, as you say, you’ve seen the last if it.
I feel something pressing on me when a part of my body is not covered , cold tingling feeling and i wake up afraid. Like if energy was being taken .What is this? I wish it would go away, and at night i am afraid to go to sleep in case part of my body gets uncovered with the blanket. Have you ever heard of this kind of situation? What can I do?
It’s hard to say really. It might be that it’s a combination of being slightly afraid and the cold feeling. Maybe try some simple things like tucking the blanket into the bed so it can’t be uncovered. And you could try sleeping with a soft night-light on, in case part of the problem is due to the darkness, which is something very common.
Hope that helps
we were holidaying recently in a hot place and our 6 year old developed a fever. we medicated him and let him watch a kids film in bed. he woke up in the middle of the night delirious, sweating and shaking complaining of a nightmare linked to the film. since then he has recovered from whatever illness he had but is fearful of going to bed and wakes up with the same dream every night dripping in sweat and shaking. i have done the obvious stuff so might try the imaging with him tomorrow so thanks for the informtion. poor kid is petrified!
Thanks for your comment, and I do hope you had some success with the imaging. Well done for looking around for information about how to help him. I’m sure that kind of loving parenting will help him get through difficulties like the recurring nightmares.
All the best, and if you have a moment to come back and let us know if the imaging helped at all, that would be much appreciated.
I know of the almost one and only major reason for nightmares in some people. It is being exposed to hot sun especially the head portion . My theory is that sun affects different people in different ways for Eg with all other factors being equal some people get headache when exposed to sun. Likewise sun causes some trigger in the brain that causes nightmares. The trigger could be
-activation of certain portion of the brain because of sun.
-body reactions because of abnormal exposure to sun triggering dream centers in the brain, for example increase supply of vitamin D because of exposure to sun, bit of dehydration etc.
You could do some research to find out if people living in countries which get little or no sunlight during the winter ever get nightmares. I think you might be disappointed to find out that they probably still do…
Also when I awake from these dreams my heart is racing of course but my entire insides are shaking…you can place your hand on my skin and feel the vibrations
Hey Ethan thank you for replying. I’ve noticed a pattern, since I got pregnant with my first child in 2004 it started. Stress or being overly tired brings these on.
When I say they can be dangerous is because one episode I dreamed and “seen” someone in my room attacking my newborn baby, I leaped to him grabbed him up and ran. Once I got out of my bedroom door I came to realize I was in another “night terror” my son was fussy and in pain so I had to immediately take him to his pediatrician for xrays. Thank God he wasn’t hurt seriously. Just sore. These dreams are so vivid and I still see it when I open my eyes that I act out…frantically. I’m afraid that one day ill hurt someone thinking they are the intruders etc.
Hi again Lisha
Thanks for adding this information to the story. What you describe sounds like it could be a different sleep disorder, such as REM behavior disorder. This is one where people can act out their dreams because their brain has not properly shut down the body. I recommend talking to a doctor and see if you can get a referral to a sleep specialist if you are doing things like grabbing your son in your dream and he is ending up in pain.
All the best,
I have dreams where I wake up and still see it manifested right in front of me. They are always life threatening scary dreams and happen often. Im up running or screaming or just frozen in shock for a good full 20-60 seconds till the manifestation disappears. I am fully awake but still fully within this dream. I have many family and friends that have seen me do this. I do not know what to call this but it can be dangerous to others around me and myself. My triggers are stress and lack of sleep I believe.
Thanks for sharing your story, and I’m sorry to hear you have such vivid and disturbing dream experiences. When you say it can be dangerous to others and yourself, what do you mean exactly? I’d be very interested to know more if you don’t mind taking the time.
Hi Ethan Green
Although German scientists Wilhelm Wundt thought that dreams were caused by stimulation of palpitations, abdominal distensions, urgent urination, and other objective things, he did not clearly indicate nightmares were caused by palpitations, and even did not give a satisfactory and convincing explanation to the reasons for nightmares. in addition, he did not have any mysterious insights, unlike the Freud’s mysterious theory of dream without scientific basis as well as Freud’s popularity due to capturing people’s curiosities, his correct opinions failed to receive wide attention. A paper published in Chinese Scientists 1996 proposed that nightmares were caused by palpitations, and the two most common nightmares were caused by the two most common reasons of palpitations. After giving satisfactory explanations to nightmares, someone from another country also published papers online in 2002 and proposed that nightmares were caused by palpitations（. However, he also did not give any further satisfactory explanation, so his correct opinions also failed to receive wide attention.
Thanks for coming back with that information. It’s certainly an interesting theory, and one I will have a look into!
Nightmares are caused by palpitations. Persons who palpitation is easy to occur are easy to have nightmare, females are easier to have nightmare than males, because palpitation is easier occur to females than to males. When palpitations occurs, people will have two main feelings: one is tachycardia cause a feeling of seeming to be pursuing ;the other is bradycardia or premature beat cause the feeling of heart suspension or heart sinking. Therefore, people in sleep accordingly will have the two nightmares of being pursued (occasionally hunting other people) and flying in the air, and falling down.
Thanks for your interesting comment and theory. I haven’t heard this one before – can I ask where the idea came from?