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Bad Dreams, Night Terrors, and Nightmares: What’s the Difference?

As often as we say the phrase, “sweet dreams,” the reality of it is, dreams aren’t always so sweet.

Bad dreams, nightmares, and night terrors are often characterized as haunting, distressing, stressful, etc. We created this insider’s guide to help you understand the differences between your dreams:

In the simplest way, the difference between bad dreams, nightmares, and night terrors is the level of severity.

Bad Dreams


In terms of severity, bad dreams are a step below nightmares. Nonetheless, bad dreams are still disturbing. You are also likely to sleep through these types of dreams. You may wake up in the morning and recall the negative dreams that you’ve had. The experience may even resonate with you throughout the day. However, bad dreams are less likely to cause emotional distress like nightmares do. Bad dreams are also the most common to experience among adults.



In the midst of daunting nightmares, the sleeper typically wakes up abruptly and remembers the dream vividly. Nightmares occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. REM becomes more frequent in the early hours of the morning, which plays a role in the sleeper remembering the nightmare. Even though bad dreams are the most commonly experienced, many people still experience nightmares. For example, one in every four children between the ages of five to twelve reported to experiencing frequent nightmares. Nightmares can be caused by anxiety and stress, but they may also have no linked cause.

Night Terrors


To put it lightly, night terrors are like nightmares on overdrive. Thankfully, night terrors are also much less common. Night terrors will not often wake the dreamer like nightmares do. However, it can leave the sleeper shouting, thrashing, or sleepwalking. This can leave their sleeping partner with the urgent desire to wake them up. However, It’s important not to wake someone who is experiencing a night terror. It’s very difficult even when you try. As hard as it is, wait it out. Those who struggle with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), often experience night terrors more often than those who do not. This type of frightening dream typically happens during the non-REM stages of sleep. This explains why the dreamer is not likely to awaken suddenly. If you are losing a lot of sleep because of night terrors and are experiencing severe anxiety throughout the day, talk to a doctor and discover some options to help.

Surprising Reasons for Your Dark Dreams


Experiencing such frightening dreams might be a recent experience for you. It probably has you wondering, why now? You’re not the only one. While nightmares are more common among young children, nearly 50% of adults experience nightmares. Let’s face it, you adults are probably losing enough sleep already without the nightmares. Although some bad dreams do not have a direct cause, there are a few proven reasons that may explain why you’re experiencing them:

Eating Before Bed: Who doesn’t love a good midnight snack? Scientifically speaking, a pre-bedtime snack can increase your metabolism, which leads the brain to become more active. This can possibly lead to nightmares. After you have a nightmare, try to recognize if you had a bedtime snack the night before. If this is a repeated experience, try your best not to snack after dinner.

Medications: Such prescriptions that affect the chemicals in your brain (i.e. antidepressants, blood pressure medications) have been correlated with nightmares. Talk to your doctor about your options. If there aren’t any other options, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of your medications when it comes to nightmares.

Lack of Sleep: This is a vicious cycle. Not catching enough Zzz’s have been linked to nightmares. Likewise, nightmares can cause a lack of sleep. Try your best to practice proper sleep hygiene, such as winding down before bed with relaxation activities. This can increase your time spent in the deep stages of sleep. This is also why KulKote can be beneficial for you. As your body naturally changes temperatures while you sleep, our KulKote bedding products will regulate your body temperature throughout the night, helping you stay in those deeper stages of sleep.