Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night unable to breathe and with a feeling of terror like something terrible was going to happen? If you have, chances are that you’ve experienced a panic attack while sleeping.
This is a common occurrence in people who suffer from these attacks during the day. In fact, about 50% of the people who suffer from panic attacks during the day will also experience them at night.
The symptoms of these attacks are pretty much the same as the symptoms of regular panic episodes. In addition, they occasionally come with vivid nightmares and sometimes brief sleep paralysis.
Causes: NOT dreams
The causes of these nightly panic episodes are pretty much the same as the causes of standard panic attacks. To name a few, major life transitions, excessive stress and losing someone close are their principal causes.
Usually, panic attacks that happen when you’re asleep are not caused by dreams. Sleep studies have shown that they happen during the early phases of sleep, before entering the REM phase where dreams are experienced.
Sometimes, the attacks will happen during the night when too much stress and anxiety are repressed during the day. This causes anxiety to accumulate inside of you and this build-up explodes when you let your guard down when you’re sleeping.
Complications: a vicious circle
Experiencing panic attacks at night can cause some complications to your well-being. Many people who experience them start to be afraid of going to sleep because they think they will wake up in panic in the middle of the night. This can lead them to develop insomnia and sleep anxiety. This does nothing the help them control their anxiety.
Insufficient sleep is one of the principal causes of chronic anxiety. People who don’t get enough sleep tend to be nervous, edgy and anxious. They have more trouble managing their emotions. This, in turn, can increase the chance of having a panic attack while sleeping.
People who sleep less are more prone to having attacks of panic, and people who experience them while sleeping are prone to sleep less. As you can see, this creates a vicious circle which can be hard to break.
Furthermore, this lack of sleep can cause additional problems, such as more breathing difficulties during episodes of panic and depression in general. But thankfully, there are a couple of solutions you can try to help you sleep better at night.
Solutions: lifestyle changes
There are a couple of things you can try to reduce your chances of experiencing panic episodes while sleeping:
Listening to relaxing music can help you fall asleep faster than simply lying on your bed in complete silence. Music will help you relax your mind and stop focusing on your conscious thoughts. Alternatively, you can try listening to a white noise machine instead of music.
Basic relaxation exercises can go a long way in helping you sleep better. I like to practice conscious breathing whenever I have trouble falling asleep as I find it helps me calm my mind.
You don’t need to do a lot of exercising every day to sleep better. Some simple lifestyle changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator will do you a lot of good. It’s amazing how a 20-minute walk outside can do wonders to clear your mind and help you sleep better at night.
4. Avoiding alcohol and coffee
In many cases, alcohol and coffee have been found to be the cause of panic disorders in people. Gradually decrease your intake of coffee and avoid taking it in the afternoon if you want any chance of sleeping at night. If you drink a lot, try to cut back on alcohol and take notes on the quality of your sleep to learn what effects it has on it.
5. Stress management
As I mentioned earlier, nightly episodes of panic happen when there is a lot of stress and anxiety repressed during the day. Learning how to manage that stress will help you get rid of your problem.
If your panic or anxiety attacks become a problem in your life and you feel like you can’t solve it by yourself, don’t be afraid to consult a professional to help you with your issue.
Panic attack or sleep apnea?
Panic attacks happening while you’re sleeping can bear some resemblances with sleep apnea, a disorder where the person stops breathing during sleep for a small period of time. While the symptoms of sleep apnea may look like the symptoms of a panic attack, doctors agree that the two disorders are unrelated.
Photo © planetchopstick
If you want to learn more about this, I heartily invite you to read my free guide, Leave Panic Behind. It will tell you everything you need to know to get rid of panic attacks.
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