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Can You Have A Panic Attack In Your Sleep

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Take The Steps To Minimize Your Nocturnal Panic Attacks

How Anxiety Messes With Your Sleep

Theres not one clearly defined, effective technique for totally alleviating or managing your nocturnal panic attacks. Not everything will work equally well for every person. However, there is some good news. The methods for treatment and coping weve discussed here can help you experience less intense, less frequent NPAs.

Some people completely cease having any nighttime panic attack after successful therapy and the continuation of self-management techniques. Others can decrease the number and intensity of the NPA episodes they experience.

If you believe youre experiencing recurring nocturnal panic attacks, then begin practicing some of the centering, relaxing techniques outlined above. Especially in the evenings when youre winding down and preparing for sleep, it can help to put your mind in a gentle state of relaxation, reducing the likelihood of having a nocturnal panic attack.

If self-management techniques dont seem to be working for you, or if your NPAs begin to occur more frequently and are more severe, seek professional help from a therapist or another mental health professional. Learning to manage nocturnal panic attacks can help reduce your stress, ease your mind, and restore your energy.

1. Craske M, Tsao J. Assessment and treatment of nocturnal panic attacks. Sleep Med Rev. 2005 9:173-184. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2004.11.003. . Accessed December 20, 2021.

What Is Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack.

A person with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because he or she cannot carry out normal routines like going to school or work, going to the grocery store, or driving.

Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.

What Causes Sleeping Panic Attacks

Even though the panic attack is said to occur while you sleep, the idea that it’s a “sleeping panic attack” may be a little misleading. Its very difficult to sleep throughout the course of these panic attacks, and the actual attack usually wakes you up, causing significant fear and disorientation.

There are many possible causes of panic attacks, generally speaking. Often, panic attacks during the day are caused by an interaction between your bodily sensations and your thoughts. During the night, however, this might not necessarily be the trigger, given that youre somewhat disconnected from your bodily and mental processes. There are, however, additional issues that may affect those who suffer from nocturnal panic attacks. These issues include:

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When Should I Get Treatment

If you feel so anxious that you have difficulty coping with everyday life then you need to get help. This is also the case if you suffer from anxiety and deal with this by drinking, taking drugs or self-harming.

You can also get help if you have resorted to avoiding stressful situations and if you have repeated problems with panic attacks, compulsive behaviour or phobias. There is excellent help available.

You should initially contact your local health centre . When you make an appointment, you can ask for a longer appointment, which will give you enough time to explain your situation. You can always to get medical advice over the phone.

If your anxiety is so bad that you are having suicidal thoughts, you should contact a health centre or emergency clinic or straight away.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat Sleep Anxiety

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CBT is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. It teaches you how to change your behavior by changing the way you think. Its a common treatment for people with anxiety. A special form of CBT called cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia focuses on helping people who have insomnia. This therapy can take anywhere from six to 12 weeks to produce results.

During CBT or CBTI, you may learn to:

  • Avoid behaviors or environmental factors that trigger your anxiety or make sleeping difficult.
  • Better understand how sleep and anxiety affect your brain and the rest of your body.
  • Change negative or inaccurate thinking about bedtime or sleep.

Your therapist may teach you how to sleep with anxiety by using biofeedback. Biofeedback trains you to control your bodys functions. You learn to relax your muscles, regulate your breathing, lower your heart rate and focus your attention. Your therapist might use special sensors to measure these bodily functions, or they may give you exercises, such as deep breathing and meditation, to do at home.

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What Do Nocturnal Panic Attacks Feel Like

Nocturnal panic attacks are essentially the same as daytime panic attacks. Theyll cause you to sweat, have a rapid heart rate, be trembling, feel short of breath, heavy breathing , have flushing or chills, and will give you a sense of impending doom. These episodes can happen when anxiety is consuming your thoughts at night.

Yes You Can Have A Panic Attack In Your Sleep But Here’s How To Get Through It

Although we sometimes throw the term around lightly, real anxiety is no joke. We all feel anxious from time to time about a big project at work or the birth of our first baby, but a true anxiety disorder is not temporary. It sticks around even in the absence of what most of us consider “normal” life stressors.

Anxiety is the most widespread mental illness in the US, affecting approximately 18 percent of Americans. The symptoms of anxiety disorders vary depending on the specific disorder and can include fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and possibly scariest of all if you’ve ever experienced one panic attacks.

A racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain, intense fear: panic attacks can be super scary, and, yes, they can even happen while you sleep. Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist and author of the book You 1, Anxiety 0, said that “panic attacks can sometimes wake you up.”

While most people think of panic attacks as something that happen only while you are awake, panic attacks at night can be a result of “heightened adrenaline during the day, a nightmare , or other hormone issues,” according to Aman. When we sleep, our brain works through the feelings and events of the day, including our fears. “Usually, the fact that they wake you makes you feel even more out of control and causes more anxiety,” Aman said.

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Causes Of Nighttime Panic Attacks

The exact causes of nighttime panic attacks are not well understood by professionals. Some believe these attacks are the result of high stress levels, a genetic predisposition, or certain changes in brain functioning.2,4

Factors that may cause a person to have panic attacks while sleeping include:2,4

  • Genetics. Having family members with a history of anxiety and panic can result in increased risk.
  • High stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Underlying medical issues like thyroid problems
  • Physiological issues in the brain that communicate that the body is awake when it is actually asleep

Why Do Nocturnal Panic Attacks Occur


It’s “multifactorial,” says Dr. Magavi, and it differs from person to person, based on underlying conditions, medical disorders, and psychiatric and family history. Nighttime rumination and stress, as well as anticipatory anxiety about what’s to come tomorrow, can all contribute to and may precipitate a nighttime attack, she notes.

“If you leave stress and anxiety unaddressed or unmanaged because there is a physiological component to our flight or fight response, your body adjusts to living in hypervigilance and high alert mode,” explains clinical psychologist Alfiee Breland-Noble, Ph.D. Your fight-or-flight responses aka when your body’s flooded with hormones in response to a perceived threat aren’t limited to our waking hours, she adds. If you turn on this response before sleep it can end up impacting your heart rate, breathing, sweating, and, yes, sleep. You might think of it as your body getting “stuck in overdrive,” and that “the symptoms and triggers that you ignore or fail to respond to during the day can potentially begin to impact you at night,” says Breland-Noble.

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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder may have:

  • Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack
  • Physical symptoms during a panic attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea
  • An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen
  • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past

What Triggers Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Nocturnal panic attacks are triggered by a number of factors, including:

  • Genetics: People with family members who have panic attacks are three times more likely to develop them themselves.
  • Stress: Stress is a common cause of anxiety and can trigger panic attacks if youre already predisposed to them.
  • Moreover, nocturnal panic attacks can be due to certain changes in the way parts of the brain work.

However, the attack can be from sleep disorders or thyroid problems: Both of these can give you symptoms that mimic those of panic attacks, such as shortness of breath or sweating.

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How To Stop Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Written by Casa Palmera Staff

You are sleeping soundly when all of a sudden you bolt awake, a cold fear gripping you. Breathing heavily, with your heart rate off the charts, you try to figure out what is happeningdid you hear a noise, have a heart attack or wake up from a bad dream? What is going on? Before you get the answer to that question, a sense of calm overtakes you, and you feel your stomach unclench from the anxiety of the past few minutes. Youre left to wonder: What just happened?

What happened was a nocturnal panic attack. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines these episodes as the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. In addition to the psychological effects, panic attacks can also trigger a tide of physiological symptoms that mimic life-threatening conditions. While panic attacks subside in mere minutes after onset, they are scary because they can occur out of the blue or stem from a particular anxiety, and while you are in the midst of one the fear can seem overwhelming and uncontrollable. Panic attacks can also signal that you may be suffering from a panic disorder. This is a type of anxiety disorder that afflicts 6 million adults in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Panic Attacks Do Not Always Have Further Health Implications

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Experiencing a panic attack is inherently distressing for the individual involved, especially if they were previously unaware of being affected by any form of anxiety. The possibility of experiencing a future panic attack â particularly if one encounters scenarios similar to the circumstances of the initial attack â is a common concern, but feeling this way does not necessarily mean that one will experience future panic attacks.

Furthermore, it is possible to experience one or more panic attacks without being affected by a related condition, such as anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Many people, who do not normally have anxiety or depressive disorders, experience one or more panic attacks in relation to a specific stressor or over the course of a lifetime.

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How Can Healthier Sleep Habits Treat Sleep Anxiety

Sleep habits, or sleep hygiene, are your routines around bedtime that can affect your sleep. Your healthcare provider may ask you to keep a sleep diary for several weeks. This is a daily log of your sleep habits. It can help identify things that might make it harder for you to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Some common ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:

  • Avoid drinking lots of fluids before bed, especially alcohol.
  • Do relaxing activities before bed, such as meditation or listening to soft, peaceful music.
  • Dont consume caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Dont go to bed unless you feel sleepy.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • If you dont fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, quiet and softly lit.
  • Only use your bed for sleep and sex. For example, avoid watching television or doing work in bed.
  • Set a goal of getting at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Try not to eat right before bedtime. If youre hungry, have a light snack and not a big meal.

How To Prepare Yourself To Get A Good Nights Sleep

While you can never guarantee getting yourself a solid nights sleep, there are some things you can do to improve your chances, or at least give yourself quality sleep for however long you manage to sleep for.

You should start by not making the assumption that you will get to sleep. Seems odd, I know. Instead you should look at each night as an opportunity to sleep. This will help to alleviate some of the pressure we put ourselves under to sleep. Its better to just accept that you may or may not get a good nights sleep. Prepare yourself to sleep and allocate time for it to happen, but dont assume that it will happen. Just accept whatever happens.

The reason for looking at it in this way is that if you can accept whatever happens with your sleep, you are putting yourself under less pressure to sleep. Sometimes it is the anxiety and worry from this that causes us to not get to sleep. Sometimes the frustration at not being able to sleep actually makes it even less likely that we are going to get to sleep.

Exercising is also very helpful when it comes to sleep. There is no shortage of studies confirming that exercise leads to better sleep patterns, as well as the other health benefits that it brings. If you can tire out your body, then it is easier to tire out your mind and get a solid sleep.

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What Happens In Your Brain

Scientists are still studying how panic attacks affect the brain. Itâs possible that the parts of the brain that are tied to fear become more active during an episode. One recent study found that people with panic disorder had lots of activity in a part of their brains tied to the âfight or flightâ response.

Other studies have found possible links between panic disorder and the chemicals in your brain. The condition may also be linked to an imbalance in serotonin levels, which can affect your moods.

Set Aside Enough Time For Sleep

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Many people don’t put enough time aside to get a proper nights sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults obtain seven or more hours of sleep a night to avoid the health risks of chronic inadequate sleep.

Research shows that getting the recommended amount of rest can improve mood and performance, making you feel more alert, happy, and refreshed.

To get the right amount of sleep, try going to bed sooner than later. Many people will wait to get to bed until it’s too late to actually get the proper amount of sleep. Anxiety can be heightened if you’re constantly watching the clock and noticing that you won’t be getting enough rest. For example, a lot of people will get to bed late and think, “It’s so late. Now I’ll only get five hours of sleep. I’m going to be such a mess tomorrow!” Such negative thinking will only contribute to your worry.

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Recognizing The Signs Of A Panic Attack

Now that we know some of the primary causes of panic attacks, we will now understand how to recognize the signs of a panic attack. If you observe these signs in yourself or see someone going through them, it might be an indication of a panic attack. Some of the most common tell-all signs of a panic attack include:

  • Feelings of unreality or derealization
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feelings of unreality or derealization
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek help. Panic attacks can be very debilitating and can interfere with your ability to live a normal life. It is important to be able to recognize the signs of a panic attack so that you can seek treatment if necessary.

Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders:

Anyone may experience these symptoms during stressful times. However, individuals with anxiety disorders may experience them in absence of stress, with more severe symptoms and/or with several symptoms appearing together.

  • Inability to relax
  • Rapid pulse or pounding, skipping, racing heart
  • Nausea, chest pain or pressure
  • Feeling a “lump in the throat”
  • Dry mouth
  • Feelings of dread, apprehension or losing control
  • Trembling or shaking, sweating or chills
  • Fainting or dizziness, feelings of detachment
  • Thoughts of death

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