A man of the match performance from home goalkeeper Dorus De Vries and a breakaway goal gave Forest the points at The City Ground.
The winner came eight minutes before the break when a three man breakaway was finished at close range by Nelson Oliveira.
There were two changes to the North End line-up with Anders Lindegaard returning from illness and Ben Pearson coming in for the injured Alan Browne in the centre of midfield.
North End looked impressive in the opening half an hour, playing a high tempo pressing game.
Their first chance came a dozen minutes in when Adam Reach rose to meet a Daniel Johnson free kick from the right hand side of the penalty area, but Dorus De Vries made a brilliant reaction save, and claimed the ball at the second attempt.
Mid-way through the half another corner from Paul Gallagher was arrowed into the box with pace and a powerful header from Greg Cunningham came off his own man and went behind for a goal kick.
Shortly after Ben Pearson was brought down 25 yards out. Gallagher took a free kick with real power, on target, but the wall did its job and conceded a corner, from which Forest eventually scrambled the ball away with North End having bodies galore in the six yard box.
But completely against the run of play the home side took the lead on 37 minutes. PNE had a free kick, but Forest broke with pace as three men raced away and with their first shot of the game Nelson Oliveira slid in at the back post to finish the move.
North End almost had a riposte within a minute as Calum Woods had a shot superbly saved by De Vries after cross from Cunningham, switching the ball from the left flank to the back right corner of the penalty area – the No.15 kept his shot down, but the keeper saved and scrambled to grab the rebound.
Moments later the Lilywhites suffered another blow as Joe Garner was booked ruling him out of the Gentry Day trip to Bolton Wanderers and the home game with QPR.
Manager Simon Grayson made changes at the break with Joe Garner and Bailey Wright replaced by Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson, with a switch to 4-3-3.
Ryan Mendes had a chance to double the lead from a Chris Cohen free kick five minutes in, but his powerful header was straight into the arms of Anders Lindegaard.
On the 70 minute mark a brilliant save from Dorus De Vries denied North End an equaliser, somehow getting down with one hand to keep out Jordan Hugill’s header from Calum Woods’ right wing cross - a brilliant stop by the Dutch international stopper.
It was like De Vries was a one man wall against North End as he brilliant tipped Ben Pearson’s 20 yard curler around the post with nine minutes left as PNE pushed harder and for a leveller.
De Vries was awarded the sponsor’s man of the match, telling you everything about the Lilywhites performance and the fantastic efforts of the custodian to keep them out.
In injury time North end had a brace of corners with Anders Lindegaard up for them, but despite the best efforts of the yellows they could not get the goal their play deserved and the home team hung on for the win.
Nottingham Forest line-up: De Vries, Lichaj, Mancienne, Mills (c), Cohen (Jokic, 72), Mendes (Vaughan, 83), Gardner, Tesche, Osborn, O’Grady, Oliveira (Grant, 73). Subs not used: Evtimov, Wilson, McDonagh, Petravicius.
PNE line-up: Lindegaard, Woods, Cunningham, Clarke (c), Huntington, Wright (Robinson, 46), Pearson, Gallagher (Doyle, 77), Johnson, Reach, Garner (Hugill, 46). Subs not used: Kirkland, Vermijl, Welsh, Smith.
Attendance: 16,747 (525 away fans)
Referee: Mr M Brown