Suddenly, you are awakened to the sound of your child screaming. Rushing to their bedside you realize, once again, they are dreaming. As you comfort and coax your child back to sleep, you wonder if this dream will be remembered. Nearly everyone experiences nightmares from time to time. A person who has a nightmare can usually remember the terrifying event rather vividly. However, a night terror differs from a nightmare in that the person is unable to recall the content of the dream. Some people appear to be more likely to have nightmares/terrors than others, but the reasons for this are unknown.
There are a few contributing factors that seem to trigger nightmares/terrors: stress, excessive fatigue, and psychological problems. Many people report an increased incidence of nightmares/terrors when they are under stress. Stress is an anxious or threatening feeling that comes when we appraise a situation as being more than our psychological resources can adequately handle. Many therapists believe that dreams are extensions of waking life. Meaning that our dreams reflect the same thoughts, fears, concerns, problems and emotions present when awake.
If stress seems to be the cause of the nightmares then experimenting with various methods of coping strategies, such as, meditation, hypnotism, yoga, or biofeedback might help. Excessive fatigue also seems to bring on nightmares. The causes of fatigue include changing to night-shift work, having medical problems or chronic pain, and abusing alcohol or other substances (sedatives), all of which disrupt the sleep stages. Avoid becoming overly fatigued by getting the minimum amount of sleep needed to avoid drowsiness, and maintaining a regular bedtime.
If nightmares are related to alcohol, limit consumption and avoid drinking in the evening. There are effective, non-drug and drug treatments for bouts of fatigue. A physician would be able to provide these alternative treatments. Psychological problems are usually associated with night terrors in adults. These problems are related to behavior and mental processes. In such cases, some form of psychotherapy or counseling may be required to gain an understanding of the underlying conflict or disorder that is causing the nightmares/terrors.
Recurring night terrors may be prevented with a small dose of a tranquilizer. Nightmares may be frightening when they occur. Most of the time, however, they do not have serious consequences. Nightmares caused by psychological problems, however, are unlikely to go away until that problem is resolved. Night terrors in children usually disappear spontaneously with age. Many therapists agree that the causes of nightmares can represent past, present, or future concerns, fears, or worries. Even then, nightmares/terrors are not dangerous, but they can disrupt sleep.