Nocturnal panic attacks. Stop them for good!

Panic attacks during the sleep or in the moment of waking up are not uncommon. Usually, this phenomenon is considered to be a consequence of bad dreams and people do not associate it with what happens to a person in real life. It is known, however, that most panic attacks are not consequences of bad dreams. Sleep studies show that the peak of nocturnal panic attacks falls on the early phase of the sleep, not the phase associated with dreams, and that distinguishes nocturnal panic attacks from the nightmares. Nightmares occur most frequently in the second half of the sleep, so we can often recall the content of these dreams. Problems with the sleep induced apnea usually do not have the symptoms of high anxiety. Although this disorder can have influence on occurrence of panic attacks, since the apnea influences blood pressure and a heart rate.

In fact, nocturnal panic attacks in most cases are caused by a stress that a person faces during the day. Often these attacks appear in the background of the serious life changes or stressful situations like breakup, loss of a loved one, a job change, moving to another city, etc.

Nocturnal panic attacks usually begin with awakening and are accompanied by a strong sudden fright or fear for an unknown reason. Although nocturnal panic attacks usually last no more than 10 minutes, a person needs much more time for recovering. Panic attacks may also occur during the sleep, for example, when a person focuses on his own heart rhythm (it may seem that the heart stopped beating, this is followed by a fear, which leads to a panic attack), as well as on the breathing (respiratory failure seem to occur, a person is not sure whether he can breathe, causing artificially provoked asphyxiation).

Thus, panic attacks at night are determined mainly by the impact of the day’s events, alcohol or drug use, and the general state of excitation due to the anxiety. If a person is suffering from the nocturnal panic attacks, it is likely that he lives permanently in a state of stress, experiencing constant anxiety and worry. During the day, we usually control our behavior, sometimes without realizing our feelings and  not allowing them to “come out”. During the sleep, all barriers disappear, the usual stereotypes do not work, anxiety and worry “rise from the depths”, causing the bad dreams and nightmares, and sometimes even the development of the anxiety disorder.

Panic attacks at night do not cause direct physical harm. However, a fear and a terror do have consequences – they are reflected in both the physical and the psychological state of the person. Nocturnal panic attacks can trigger headaches, stress and pain in the muscles – especially in the shoulders and upper back. Because of the attack a person cannot have the necessary rest during the sleep, so during the day he feels lethargy and weakness. Sometimes a fear of recurrence of the panic attack leads to fear to go to sleep and person may even begin to suffer from chronic insomnia.

The longer a person is suffering from the sleep disorders, the more he is exhausted and the more it increases the likelihood of the next anxiety attack. So there is a vicious circle that can adversely affect the health, increasing the likelihood of physical illness and mental disorders (e.g. depression).

How to eliminate nocturnal panic attacks

In order to solve this problem and to prevent the possible consequences of the nocturnal panic attacks, you should consult a therapist. The specialist will help to determine what caused the development of anxiety disorders, to deal with the disturbing situation and develop a new, healthier, more relaxed attitude in life. The therapy can be used in variety of methods: hypnosis, psychodynamic therapy, relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc.

As a rule, it is possible to eliminate the panic attacks without medication. However, if necessary (with serious and frequent attacks, the lack of energy and reserves for psychotherapeutic work) the patient can be assigned to a drug therapy. This integrated approach allows quickly obtaining a stable effect and returning the patient to normal life.