If you experience panic attacks, you may know that it is possible to experience one while sleeping. The last time you thought you were waking up from a bad dream, you might have been having a panic attack. A nocturnal panic attack causes you to wake up feeling scared and anxious. It could be accompanied by sweating, rapid heart rate and breathlessness.
Panic attacks during sleep can be devastating to your sleep rhythm. The attack may only last a couple minutes, but it usually takes a while to calm down and fall back asleep. If you start to develop a pattern of waking up with anxiety attacks, you may become apprehensive about going to sleep. Nocturnal panic attacks can progress into sleeping disorders.
What Causes Nocturnal Panic Attacks?
Nocturnal panic attacks occur when your sleep cycle is disrupted by a panic attack. The brain doesn’t completely shut down when you go to sleep. In fact, sleep time is when your mind and body do some maintenance activities they don’t handle while you’re awake.
Even if you clear your conscious mind before bed, you may experience nocturnal panic attacks. There are a lot of unanswered questions remaining about the subconscious mind and why it behaves the way it does. If you spend too much energy dwelling on why you get nocturnal panic attacks, you may only exacerbate the situation.
Tips for Dealing with Panic Attacks During Sleep
A more productive approach than trying to understand the cause of nocturnal panic attacks is attempting to limit their severity and duration. As you probably know from daytime panic attacks, there are ways you can minimize the effect panic attacks have on your life.
- Recognize the symptoms — Unless you have a history of heart disease, when you wake up in the middle of the night with pain and tightness in your chest, it is probably a panic attack. Those symptoms combined with sweating and a feeling of dread are more likely a panic attack than a heart attack. When you understand what is happening to you, even if you cannot control it, you will find it easier to de-escalate your response.
- Confirm you are okay — A nocturnal panic attack can leave you feeling scared and vulnerable. Those feelings feed into the panic and can make it worse. Instead of being paralyzed by your fears, get up and confirm they are not real. Turn on the light, check to see that the door is locked or whatever you have to do to prove to yourself you are not in any danger. Try to tap into your logical mind to counteract the emotional response you are having.
- Change the venue — Get out of bed and walk around for a few minutes. By changing your physical location, you may be able to shake the thoughts of fear and panic before they develop a stronger hold on you. Go into a different room, put a light on and sit up for a while.
- Get comfortable — One way to shake off the effects of a panic attack is to remove the physical evidence. If you wake up in a sweat, take a quick shower and put on clean pajamas. Open a window to let a slight breeze into the room. Take a blanket to the couch to get out of your sweaty sheets.
When unchecked, a panic attack can escalate quickly. It may be hard to fall asleep right away, and the more attention you pay to figuring out why you had the attack, the longer those scary feelings could linger. Do what you can to brush it off as no big deal, and try not to dwell on it the next morning. It’s important to remind yourself you are perfectly safe.
How to Stop Anxiety Attacks at Night
The only way to eliminate nocturnal panic attacks is to heal the physical and mental wounds that may be causing them in the first place. By adjusting your lifestyle to facilitate good mental health, you may be able to prevent or reduce nocturnal panic attacks:
- Exercise — Do not overlook the value of physical activity for your mental health. Adopt a regular fitness routine to maintain optimal conditioning of mind and body.
- Nutrition — The foods you eat can have an impact on your brain. Be sure your diet contains a variety of healthy fresh foods. By improving your diet, you can feed your brain the nutrients it needs to develop and maintain a healthy condition.
- Healthcare — Do not let physical or mental health conditions go untreated. Your body can often heal itself, but sometimes it may the support of a healthcare professional.
Anxiety attacks, whether they happen during the day or while you sleep, can be scary. Although you do not need to address the acute symptoms of the attack, you should heed its warning.
If you get anxiety attacks, seek support for your mental health. The mental health support you can get at Brookhaven Retreat may help you break the cycle of panic attacks and sleep disorders. For more information, contact us today.