Nightmares and night terrors, the most common parasomnias

Parasomnias are a group of sleep disorders formed by all those alterations of the patient’s behavior while sleeping. Some of the most common parasomnias are nightmares and night terrors.


Nightmares are a very common disorder in childhood, affecting between 10% and 50% of children between 3 and 6 years of age. They occur during REM sleep, in the second half of the night. They are dreams with terrifying content that awaken the sufferer. This awakening occurs rapidly and moderate agitation is experienced, with palpitations and increased respiratory rate. Usually the subject remembers the content of the dream.

If nightmares are very intense and appear frequently, they have a detrimental effect on the patient’s quality of life. Although they are more common in childhood, they can also occur in adulthood. In this case stress and traumatic episodes make them worse. In the treatment of the disorder, relaxation and coping techniques are used to deal with the content of the nightmare. The problem may subside in a short period of time if the process is actively followed.

Night terrors

Night terrors are also common in childhood, between the ages of 3 and 5 years. They usually disappear once adolescence is reached, being rare in adults.

Children suffering from the disorder wake up in stages III and IV of sleep, during the first third of the night. The awakening is accompanied by a loud scream and, unlike in nightmares, occurs in a state of confusion. In addition, more intense signs of autonomic activation appear, such as tachycardia and sweating. The parents will come to the child’s aid when they hear his screams and will observe that he is not aware of what has happened and has difficulty in responding to them. Unlike nightmares, the content of the dream is not remembered in the morning.