Nocturnal Panic Attacks: 8 Ways to Effectively Manage & Overcome

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Woman having nocturnal panic attacks

What Is A Nocturnal Panic attack?

A nocturnal panic attack is a panic attack that occurs during sleep, waking a person up suddenly. These attacks can be extremely frightening, causing symptoms like rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, and a feeling of intense fear or dread, even though there’s no real danger Source: Mayo Clinic.

Are Panic Attacks In Sleep Very Common?

Nocturnal panic attacks are not as common as daytime panic attacks, but they can affect about 40-70% of people who suffer from panic disorders.

These attacks can be quite distressing because they disrupt sleep and leave the person feeling frightened and anxious Source: Verywell Mind.

What’s the Difference Between Nocturnal Panic Attacks and Night Terrors?

Nocturnal panic attacks and night terrors share some symptoms such as intense fear, rapid breathing, racing heartbeat, and excessive sweating.

However, a key difference lies in the level of awareness: people who have nocturnal panic attacks are usually fully aware of their experience and remember it upon waking, whereas those who experience night terrors generally do not recall them Sources: Cleveland Clinic, Real Life Counseling.

Symptoms And Causes


What Causes Night Time Panic Attacks?

Night time panic attacks, also known as nocturnal panic attacks, can be triggered by various factors. These can include high levels of stress, certain medications, and underlying mental health conditions like anxiety disorders.

It is also believed that disruptions in sleep patterns or issues like sleep apnea could potentially trigger these attacks. Additionally, stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine, taken before bed, can contribute to the occurrence of nocturnal panic attacks.

Despite these potential triggers, it’s important to note that these attacks can sometimes occur without any apparent cause, adding to their unsettling nature Source: Mayo Clinic.

What Are Some Risk Factors Regarding Panic Attack In Sleep?

  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of panic disorders are more likely to experience nocturnal panic attacks.
  • Mental health disorders: Having conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, or stress disorders can increase the risk.
  • Physical health conditions: Certain physical health conditions, such as sleep apnea or heart disease, can also be risk factors.
  • Substance use: The use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or illicit drugs can contribute to the occurrence of these attacks.
  • Age: Panic disorders often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood, which could extend to nocturnal panic attacks.
  • Traumatic events: People who have experienced traumatic events or significant life changes may be at a higher risk.
  • Irregular sleep patterns: Lack of regular sleep or having a disrupted sleep schedule can contribute to the likelihood of experiencing nocturnal panic attacks Source: Mayo Clinic.

What Are The Symptoms of a Nocturnal Panic Attack?

  • Intense fear and anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath or choking sensation
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling detached or unreal
  • Fear of losing control or dying

How Long Do Panic Attacks At Night Last?

Nocturnal panic attacks typically last for several minutes, but the intense fear and discomfort can make them feel much longer. It’s not uncommon for the effects to linger, causing distress or anxiety even after the attack has subsided Source: Mayo Clinic.

Diagnosis And Tests


How Can A Doctor Diagnose Panic Attacks While Sleeping?

Nocturnal panic attacks are diagnosed through a combination of physical examinations, psychological evaluations, and discussions about sleep patterns and symptoms.

Your doctor may also use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to confirm the diagnosis Source: Mayo Clinic.

Management And Treatment


Effective Strategies To Prevent and Stop Nocturnal Panic Attacks

  1. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: Create a comfortable sleep environment and maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Avoid screens before bed and try to make your bedroom a relaxing, quiet, and dark space.
  2. Limit Stimulants: Reduce intake of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, particularly in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  3. Regular Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce anxiety and promote better sleep. However, try not to exercise too close to bedtime as it may interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
  4. Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and prepare your body for sleep.
  5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help you understand the triggers and thought patterns that lead to panic attacks, and develop effective coping strategies. Panic Away is an effective program that employs CBT.
  6. Medication: In some cases, medication may be recommended by a healthcare professional. Always take medication as prescribed and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
  7. Reach Out to Others: Don’t isolate yourself. Share your experiences with trusted friends or family, or consider joining a support group.
  8. Professional Help: If nocturnal panic attacks persist or worsen, seek help from a mental health professional who can provide personalized treatment options Sources: Mayo Clinic, Healthline, American Psychological Association, National Sleep Foundation.

How Is A Panic Attack During Sleep Treated?

Nocturnal panic attacks are typically treated through a combination of psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy being the most effective), medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, and lifestyle modifications like stress management and relaxation techniques.

Using a program such as Panic Away is a highly effective form of behavioral therapy.

It’s crucial to work with a healthcare provider to create a treatment plan that addresses both the symptoms and any underlying conditions Source: Mayo Clinic.

What Are Some Complications Associated With Having A Panic Attack While Sleeping?

Complications of nocturnal panic attacks can include development of phobias, particularly agoraphobia or fear of places where escape might be difficult, and avoidance behaviors that can disrupt daily life. They may also lead to increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions, especially if associated with other mental health disorders like depression Source: Mayo Clinic.

That is why it is important to use a program like Panic Away to attack your anxiety disorder at its source.

What’s The Prognosis for People Who Have Night Time Panic Attacks?

The prognosis for people with nocturnal panic attacks can be positive with appropriate treatment and lifestyle changes.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, proper sleep hygiene, and stress management techniques can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of these attacks, improving overall quality of life Source: Mayo Clinic.

When Should I Call A Healthcare Provider?

You should contact a healthcare professional about nocturnal panic attacks if they’re causing significant distress, disrupting your sleep on a regular basis, leading to fear of sleeping, or if you notice an increase in their frequency or intensity.

Additionally, seek help immediately if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or if your panic attacks are accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting, as these could indicate other serious conditions Source: Mayo Clinic

What Questions Should I Ask A Healthcare Provider About Nocturnal Panic Attacks?

When discussing nocturnal panic attacks with your healthcare provider, you might ask, “What could be triggering my nocturnal panic attacks and how can I manage those triggers?” and “What treatment options are available for me, and which do you think would be most effective given my specific circumstances and overall health?”. It’s also important to discuss any potential side effects of recommended treatments.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety can be a challenging experience, and it’s crucial to recognize that overcoming it is a process. Patience and perseverance are key as you gradually dismantle the illusions created by anxiety.

While this course, Panic Away, has proven results, I want to emphasize that anxiety is curable regardless of its severity. If you wake up with a panic attack, you can implement the “One Move Technique” outlined in this course, Panic Away. This technique provides effective strategies to cope with panic attacks and regain control over your emotions.

Reject any thoughts suggesting otherwise and remain dedicated to finding the approach that works best for you. Never stop trying, and remember, giving up is never the solution. Take charge of your sleep and conquer your anxiety—one step at a time.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. If you are experiencing severe or persistent anxiety, please consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance and support.

Frequently Asked Questions


What does a nocturnal panic attack feel like?

Exhaustion is a cause of anxiety

A nocturnal panic attack can feel like an intense surge of fear or discomfort that awakens you from sleep. Symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a feeling of choking, nausea, chest pain, and a sense of impending doom or loss of control Source: Mayo Clinic.

When do nocturnal panic attacks generally occur?

Causes of panic attacks

Nocturnal panic attacks typically occur in the late stage of sleep, often between midnight and 3 a.m. They can abruptly wake a person from sleep, causing them to feel an intense sense of fear or anxiety Source: Calm Clinic.

Why do I wake up at 3am with anxiety?

Can you pass out from a panic attack? A man feeling faint

Waking up at 3 a.m. with anxiety could be due to a number of factors including stress, depression, certain sleep disorders or environmental issues Source: Cleveland Clinic. It’s also suggested that anxiety is worse at night because there are fewer distractions, causing individuals to focus more on their thoughts Source: Straight Talk Counseling.

Can CBD help nocturnal panic attacks?

Research suggests that CBD may be beneficial in managing panic attacks, including nocturnal ones. Some studies indicate that CBD can help restore calm and prevent the onset of panic attacks, and unlike traditional drug treatments, it doesn’t necessarily need to be taken daily to be effective [Sources: PMC, 321cbd.com, hellomd.com] Article

Henry Flury

Henry Flury, the guitarist from Butcher Babies, shares his journey of overcoming panic attacks to help others facing the same issue. He started writing to fill the gap in panic attack education online. His blog focuses on understanding anxious thoughts and offers guidance on managing panic attacks for anyone dealing with panic disorder.

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