A night terror is an extremely unpleasant form of nightmare, differing greatly in intensity. Night terrors either develop from a nightmare during deep sleep, or trigger while falling asleep.
From my experiences, night terrors differ from nightmares in two areas. Firstly, a night terror would continue even after I woke up. Somehow, although I was completely conscious and able to talk, my subconscious mind continued dreaming, overlaying the horror of the dream upon consciousness, like two overhead transparencies, one laid upon the other, distorting both.
But the worst aspect of night terrors was the terror aspect itself. The night terror would establish a set of rational, logical rules, and would then break them completely, so that would could not be, was; so that what could not happen, happened. And the rational, logical part of my mind completely rebelled in horror as the rational and logical rules of the dream world were warped and twisted into something impossible, inconceivable - that defied all reason.
I suffered a few night terrors during depression, never knowing what they were. As I slowly recovered from depression, their frequency reduced until they ceased almost altogether. I did notice that times of extreme stress were a common trigger.
Here is an example of a night terror. While still recovering from depression, I had to go to the USA by myself to attend a trade fair. I arrived at the hotel late at night, only to find that my friend who was supposed to meet me was not there, and had left no message. Going to the arranged hotel room, I found that all of my friend's co-workers were asleep. There was a makeshift bed was in the middle of the room, so I got in and went to sleep.
Due to that stressful environment, a night terror hit me that night. I dreamed that upon checking out of the hotel, I had to pay $10,000 instead of $300. My mind completely rebelled at this impossible scenario, and though I tore myself awake, the night terror simply kept on going...
After I got married, my wife witnessed me having a night terror in the middle of the night, and seeing the dream continue after I woke up, she wondered if it was related to my complex partial epilepsy. So the next time I saw my neurologist, I told him about them, fearing I was having seizures again, although on medication. But the neurologist just laughed, and said, 'Oh, you were having a night terror.' And he proceeded to explain that they were just really bad nightmares, and nothing to worry about at all.
That knowledge brought relief, and the truth that they were nothing to fear set me free from worrying about them. I also found some techniques to deal with them. As they often trigger while drifting off to sleep, I learned how to recognise when one was developing, and how to immediately force my dream into an entirely different direction, stopping it becoming a night terror. Waking myself at that stage was another way of stopping them developing.
If a night terror triggered during deep sleep, I would wake myself up, and although the night terror continued while I was conscious, I would turn on my bedlamp, stare at it, sit up for a while, and then I would turn the light off and lay back down to sleep. Even though the night terror was still going, I would press into the Lord and take refuge in Him, and reassure myself that it was nothing to fear and would stop soon. Before long, it would stop and I would fall back asleep.
Psalm 91:1-6 (NIV)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.