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Is Sleep Crying Real Crying?

may 25 crying in your sleepChances are good that you know someone who suffers from some type of sleep disorder. You may laugh and joke about the sleep talker in your household. Some families have to take special precautions to protect sleepwalkers from unintentionally injuring themselves or others. Then there are some disorders that are puzzling and sometimes disturbing. From waking up crying to dream crying and sleep terrors, tears shed in the night for no identifiable reason are among the most troubling.

Should you wake someone up if they night cry? Does your loved one need a warm hug and a shoulder to cry on when they wake up in tears? How you respond to a sleep disturbance depends on the condition of the person crying and when the crying is exhibited.

Nightmares, Night Terrors, Dream Crying – What’s the Difference?

man crying in sleepThere are a lot of terms used to reference some form of crying during sleep or while waking from sleep. It’s important to understand the difference so that you can determine if medical intervention is necessary for your symptoms or those of a loved one.

    • Nightmares: Most people have nightmares from time to time, and they only need treatment or intervention when they are so extreme that they lead to intense anxiety and interfere with the ability to sleep. While they’re scary and may lead to someone waking up crying at times, the fear is based on images and dream scenarios presented during the REM phase of sleep.
    • Sleep Terrors: This is a more serious condition that involves a sense of terrifying fear unattached to a dream. The sense of fear sets in before the REM stage of sleep, and the sufferer will often scream, cry, thrash around, or even get up and run around as if trying to escape. This occurs while the person is in a sleep state, and they typically don’t remember anything that happened once they wake up fully.
    • Dream Crying: In most cases, this term refers to crying real tears while immersed in a dream. This occurs when the emotion experienced during the dream is so intense that it feels real. If you have ever awoken from a dream and had to take a few minutes to reassure yourself that it was in fact a dream, you know how realistic a dream can feel. The emotion can be happy or sad, so it’s not always the fear associated with nightmares.

Notice that each of these terms involve crying and sleep, but the crying occurs at different points of the sleep cycle. If you or someone you love ever cries in their sleep or wakes up crying, it’s important to ask if they remember a dream or know that they were dreaming.

If a dream is recalled, then chances are high that it’s not sleep terrors and may simply be the result of emotional vulnerability while dreaming. Sleep terrors are most common in young children, but adults may experience them after a traumatic event. Counseling to heal from the trauma is often helpful for those adults.

Sleep Crying & the Elderly

It is rather common for caregivers to notice that their elderly loved ones or dementia sufferers are crying in their sleep. This may involve actual tears and/or sounds associated with crying or distress. In many cases, the person experiencing the night cry has no memory of doing so once they wake up.

It’s important to match sleep crying in the elderly with other signs of pain, agitation or discomfort during wakeful hours. Note all potential symptoms and have a medical professional check for bed sores, urinary infections, ear infections and other conditions that may be causing distress. In many cases, nothing is found and the cause of the night crying is never discovered. It’s still best to check for all potential causes, especially if the sleep crying starts suddenly.

Final Thoughts

baby crying in sleepBabies may night cry as they shift from one stage of sleep to another. Your bedmate may have a habit of waking up crying due to emotional dreams. Someone you love may even suffer more severe night terrors. In many cases, these experiences are more stressful for the person witnessing the event than the person directly involved. If you’re seriously concerned and believe that there is something deeper than reactions to a sensitive dream, talk to a doctor or psychologist familiar with the sufferer’s medical history.

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