What If I Can’t Sleep
Sometimes people find themselves in a state of worry about sleep, constantly trying to fend off, or refute, a refrain of “what if…?” questions about sleep. In response, they imagine all kinds of dire circumstances – not sleeping for 7 days in a row, going crazy, being unable to maintain their job, and so on.
That’s what arguing with “what if…?” thoughts will do for you. It gets you more embroiled in arguing with yourself. This thought about sleep is just a variation of the usual panic thoughts: “what if I have a heart attack?”, “what if I faint?”, “what if I go crazy?”, and so on.
So the challenge here is to recognize “what if I can’t sleep?” as a symptom of nervousness, nothing more or less, and to treat it that way. It’s not an important message or warning. It’s just you being nervous.
“What if I don’t sleep?”. For the most part, the answer is that I’ll get sleepy. And when I get sleepy enough, I’ll sleep. This is a self correcting problem.
So The First Step Is: Name It
So you just need to name it as a panic attack.
The minute that you realize whats going on and the minute that you come to an understanding that, Oh, hang on a minute. Yes, actually, this is terrifying but I think this might be a panic attack that I am having.
I think that this could possibly be anxiety thats causing this to happen to me.
The minute you have the slight little inkling that thats whats going on through the terror, thats when you have to say, Yes, yes. This is a panic attack thats absolutely whats going on with me right now.
Create Some Space To Unwind
When everything is done for the night and ready for the next day, you do need some time each evening to simply relax, let go, and re-energize. A few ideas:
- Practice a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing, journaling, or yoga.
- Read a book.
- Unwind with a warm bath or cup of tea.
Regardless of what brings you serenity, set aside at least 10 minutes of downtime each evening. Doing so allows you to feel calmer and may be the prompt you need to get a good nights rest.
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Stress And Life Events
Even though anxiety is not a synonym of panic attacks, they are closely related. We all experience some stress in our day to day activities but when it becomes too overwhelming it becomes a risk factor for panic attacks.
Moreover, when we havent developed enough coping strategies when we feel anxious or stress, life events such as losing your job, breaking up with your partner, having a child, or experiencing the death of a loved one can lead to panic attacks.
Does Sleep Apnea Trigger Nighttime Panic Attacks
Dr. Bea says that panic is not necessarily triggered by sleep apnea. Sleep panic attacks tend to happen during certain stages of sleep. And theyre not related to sleep terrors. Sleep terrors occur in different phases of sleep as well. However, sleep troubles can create stress. Any stressor thats acting on you can potentially cause your brain and body to be a little bit more aroused.
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How Does A Panic Attack Differ From Anxiety
You will come across quite a few mentions of anxiety attack on the Internet. The term anxiety attack is not a medically recognised term and it can mean different things.
When it comes to your mental wellbeing, being specific helps health professionals such as a general practitioner, cognitive behavioural therapist, or clinical psychologist to diagnosis and manage your symptoms effectively.
Whilst some symptoms can be similar , panic and anxiety are two very different things.
For starters, a panic attack has a very sudden onset and the symptoms are extreme. Within seconds, you may experience chest pain, trembling, and feel disconnected from your reality. Anxiety, however, tends to gradually build up across time. You may find yourself worrying excessively and feel an intensifying amount anxiety across days and weeks. Unlike panic attacks, anxiety symptoms tend to feel less intense but the symptoms may be persistent for longer periods of time .
In summary, a panic attack is different to anxiety in their intensity of symptoms and the length of time that the symptoms present themselves.
How You Manage Daytime Panic Attacks Might Help You At Night
Dr. Bea says the stress management techniques that you rely on during the day can help you recover from sleep panic attacks. While theres no surefire method, he says that normalizing the experience regardless of when it occurs can make a huge difference. The purpose of this is to get to a place where you no longer feel threatened or disturbed by the panic attack.
Thinking about how you feel after a stressful event is an observational strategy that keeps you from trying to fix the experience. When you dont try to fix things, the sensations in your body are going to pass pretty quickly.
If youre driving in your car and someone cuts you off, youre going to jerk the wheel to avoid the collision. Your brain and body are going to be activated very quickly so even though youve avoided danger, youre still going to feel on edge, he says.
But if you continue to drive and simply notice the sensations in your body, theyll dissipate on their own. The same strategy can be used in the midst of a panic episode. Simply noticing the sensations, perhaps rating the discomfort then noticing the remaining sensations can be much more useful than taking any steps to fix the panicky feeling.
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Treatment For Nocturnal Panic Attacks
The treatment of nocturnal panic attacks will utilize the same tactics used for other panic attacks. The hope is that by managing all panic attacks with therapy and medication treatments, the nocturnal panic attacks will be reduced as well.
Therapy for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders often uses cognitive behavioral therapy as the starting point. CBT encourages the client to recognize how the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affects their anxiety and panic.
CBT sessions can involve:5
- Communication skills
Surely, many forms of therapy can treat panic attacks. People may explore acceptance and commitment therapy , dialectical behavior therapy , and others to achieve their mental health goals.
Either alone or in addition to therapy, medication can reduce the symptoms of panic attacks. A variety of antidepressants, sedatives like benzodiazepines, and anticonvulsant medications are available.5
Like with other medications, it is crucial the individual meets with their prescriber to discuss the best options for their needs and the possible adverse effects. Your primary care physician, psychiatrist, or nurse practitioner could assist you in making informed decisions.
Enjoy A Cup Of Bedtime Stress Relief Tea
One of my favorite ways to take the edge off of mild stress and anxiety at night is with a cup of bedtime stress relief tea. I always recommend herbal, non-caffeinated teas over caffeinated alternatives especially before bed. Ingredients like chamomile and passionflower are usually ideal for a good nights sleep. Check out this article on the best tea for anxiety for my current favorites.
This is one of the simplest, and healthiest options for decreasing anxiety at night. For regular use, I would definitely opt for something mild and natural like a good herbal tea over other, less natural anxiety supplements or, even worse, a medication for sleep.
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How To Subdue A Panic Episode In 9 Steps
Here is something you can try to treat the pre-described symptoms,
It is a series of simple breathing techniques aimed at helping your body override its natural fight-or-flight response .
The following may be performed sitting down, standing up, or lying down. You can do this whilst on a crowded commute into work, when youre in bed, during a stressful work meeting, or basically in any situation where it is safe to switch your attention to yourself for a few minutes.
To feel less panicky, do the following:
This simple breathing exercise is effective because when you are feeling stressed, your breathing pattern changes. When we feel anxious, out natural physiological response is to breathe too much in short shallow bursts.
The above abdominal breathing exercise makes you conscious of how you are breathing.
How To Prevent Panic Attacks At Night
Preventing panic attacks is the goal, and there are plenty of self-help tips a person can employ to succeed in this area. Best of all, many of these tips include small changes that can result in big differences.
To prevent nocturnal panic attacks, try the following:6
- Acknowledge your anxiety: The best way to start treating your anxiety is my acknowledging and accepting it. Call it what it is and dont feel ashamed by your struggle with panic.
- Address your diet: The foods you eat during the day could have a huge impact on your sleep and nocturnal panic. Stick to healthy, whole foods with plenty of fiber and protein to keep you full all night.
- Exercise away your stress: Moving your body has a tremendously positive impact on stress, so consider starting a walking program or hitting the gym to melt away your anxiety.
- Avoid the negative coping skills: A great diet and exercise plan can be quickly undone by negative coping skills like alcohol and other drug use. Dont give into the temptation to have a drink before bed. It wont help in the long run.
- Practice relaxation: Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, yoga, and meditation are all wonderful relaxation techniques that can reduce and prevent panic.
- Incorporate better sleep hygiene: Getting to sleep at the same time in a dark, cool, calm room can improve your sleep and decrease the risk of nocturnal panic.
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Risk Factors For Experiencing A Panic Attack
Although anyone may be affected by a panic attack, a range of factors may increase the likelihood for certain individuals. People who have a disorder that leads to elevated levels of anxiety are more likely to experience a panic attack. This includes:
- Generalized anxiety disorder . A form of chronic anxiety that is often unrelated to a particular cause.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder . In the case of OCD, a person experiences recurrent unwanted thoughts and compulsive behaviors. This can lead to panic attacks in some people, although, according to DSM-5 criteria, OCD is no longer listed as anxiety disorder.
- Post traumatic stress disorder . Although PTSD is a trauma and stressor-related disorder rather than an anxiety disorder, panic attacks may relate to anxiety from PTSD, that develops after first or second-hand exposure to a traumatic event.
- Social phobia. In people with social phobia, everyday situations regularly cause debilitating levels of anxiety.
Other mental health conditions, such as depression, can also cause the anxious kinds of thinking that may precipitate a panic attack.
Other factors, which increase oneâs likelihood of experiencing a panic attack, include:
Conditions which increase the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack include:
When To Seek Medical Attention
The first time one experiences a panic attack, one should seek medical attention promptly in order to check oneâs overall physical and mental health and discuss the possibility and prevention of future panic attacks.
It is not uncommon for an individual, who has experienced a panic attack, to feel embarrassment in telling their family or doctor. Many people are unaware of how common it is to experience a panic attack and/or that it could relate to panic disorder or another form of anxiety â conditions, which are highly treatable with appropriate psychotherapy and/or medication.
Even if one is not diagnosed with a mental health condition, oneâs doctor will be able to advise on management techniques in the event that a future panic attack occurs and will be able to perform check-ups to rule out other conditions or health concerns. For example, one may be screened to rule out the risk of a heart attack, particularly if one believed that one was experiencing a heart attack during the episode.
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Does Anxiety Require Treatment
Constant worrying and avoidance behaviour can be very disabling to your everyday life. Since the practice of psychology is evidence-based, there are strict guidelines to facilitate effective diagnosis of people with anxiety. Unfortunately, terminology such as mental health, mental illness, and mental disorders come with a lot of societal stigma.
One of the barriers to getting the help you need is the language that surrounds anxiety and other mental health presentations. This is because most people dislike being labelled with a disorder such as GAD and will actively avoid seeking professional help and diagnose.
Sadly, only one-third of people experience an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
Being told that you have a mental illness is a burden nobody wants to shoulder. Ironically, the diagnosis is necessary to prescribe an appropriate action plan to help you maintain a healthy quality of life.
It is a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety.
A teenager may experience anxiety in the lead up to their exams and upon release of their academic results. They may also feel anxious prior to asking someone out to be their boyfriend/girlfriend.
According to Beyond Blue, one in fourteen young Australians aged 4-17 experienced an anxiety disorder in 2015. This is equivalent to approximately 278,000 young people.
An adult may experience anxiety in the workplace and in their relationships .
So I Have Some Understanding As To How To Stop Panic Attacks At Night
Scientifically, what causes a panic attack is when you go to sleep and normally, the brain goes through three phases of winding down and going to sleep.
So, a panic attack happens when you jump from your brainwaves operating at one level and you go into too deep a sleep too quickly.
That causes your bodys wakeup system to activate and because your brain waves are still operating at that deeper sleep level, thats where the confusion comes in.
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Can Anxiety Wake You Up At Night
Anxiety can wake you up at night in the form of a nocturnal panic attack. It tends to have the same symptoms as a daytime panic attack and will wake up for no apparent or obvious reason. The reasons why people may experience these types of episodes are still not clear enough but there are some factors associated.
How Do You Calm An Anxiety Attack At Night
Night time is often considered to be a time of relaxation, where we mentally unwind and prepare ourselves for sleep. However, it is still quite common to experience an anxiety attack at night. This page looks at the symptoms of a night-time anxiety attack and offers a range of tips on how to overcome this nocturnal disturbance.
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Cut Caffeine And Alcohol Out Of Your Diet
Caffeine, alcohol, and just about any other drug can wreak havoc on our mental health and sleep. Pay attention to the frequency of your nocturnal panic attacks and try to determine whether there is any link between your sleep anxiety and your use of drugs like caffeine and alcohol. For me, this was one of my biggest sources of nighttime anxiety.
I quit caffeine when I realized how dependent on it I had become and how anxious I felt without it. After a few days of cold turkey quitting caffeine, I had begun to experience extremely uncomfortableheart palpitations that lasted about two nights. If youre a regular coffee drinker, try and take note of whether your caffeine intake has any effect on your nocturnal panic attacks. Do you get them more when you drink caffeine before bed? Or maybe you get them when you miss a few days and are having caffeine withdrawals?
And, if you think caffeine and alcohol are bad for sleep, consider what any harder drug can do! Im not saying you have to cut these things out of your life completely, but you should at least experiment a bit to see if you have less anxiety at night without them.
*Side note The worst nightmares Ive ever had in my life came after drinking Nyquil. I dont know whats in that stuff but I hope to never experience another Nyquil nightmare in my life.
Mental Health Treatment Program Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
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