Nocturnal Panic Attacks


Nocturnal Panic Attacks are panic attacks that occur in the midst of your sleep. Sudden waking and feelings of terror characterise it. Naturally, it is terrible to be awakened by a panic attack at night, because it has all the major confusion and powerful physical sensations of a day time attack, combined with the fact that you are barely awake enough to know what is happening.

Although panic attacks at night last for less than 10 minutes, you may take a while to calm down and get back to sleep. It becomes very difficult to get back to sleep and in some cases, people start to fear sleeping, worried that they may get a panic attack again if they go to sleep.

Some people perceive an attack to be some sort of nightmare. However, both are different and panic attacks at night happen in the early stages of sleep. These sudden nocturnal panic attacks usually occur with people who have anxiety issues. Generally, attacks happen during the day, but if the condition gets worse it may become nocturnal. This leads to insomnia due to the very fear of sleeping.

Symptoms of Nocturnal Panic Attacks


Nocturnal panic attacks have the same symptoms of daytime panic attacks, and they are quite alarming as they mimic those of a heart attack or other serious medical conditions. Symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heavy breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Hot flushes
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Intense fear
  • A sense of impending doom.


Nocturnal panic attacks.

Causes Associated with Nocturnal Panic Attacks


Even though it is not clear why sleep panic disorder occurs, some underlying factors may include genetics, stress, sleep disorders and certain changes in the way your brain works. It has a lot to do with your brain being alert to possible danger.

Panic attacks at night has something to do with your brain and what your brain pays attention to, becomes real. So, if your anxiety levels are high, your brain will be constantly scanning your body and your environment for possible things that needs attention. This can wake you from sleep.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea:

This sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway gets obstructed, usually with fat and tissues, due to the relaxation in the throat muscles. It blocks the airway so that your body actually stops breathing for some 30 seconds or more. This causes hypoventilation, which leads to stress on the heart and many symptoms that mimic heart disease.

While most people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea wake up and go to sleep again often without realizing it, some people notice each and every symptom and wake up in a panic. This type of apnea may also be caused by obesity hypoventilation syndrome, and occurs often in people with excess fat around their head and neck.

  • Acid Reflux:

Many people suffering from acid reflux experience symptoms that mimic serious health issues, including hyperventilation, laboured breathing, chest pains, pressure in the chest, headaches and night sweats. These symptoms can cause you to wake up in a panic, and trigger a sleep panic disorder.

  • Nightmares:

A frightening nightmare or frequent nightmares may set the stage for panic attacks at night.

Prevention And Treatment 

It is a very hard to deal with nocturnal panic attacks on your own, because the shocks of these attacks makes them much harder to control. Although people learn some tricks to stop their daytime panic attacks from becoming too severe, sleep panic disorders are beyond your control. Some possible methods to prevent and treat nocturnal panic attacks are:

Weight Control – Weight control is very important for panic attacks caused by something like obstructive sleep apnea. Losing weight can drastically cut down on hypoventilation.

Exercise – A little exercise right before sleep will help to sleep peacefully.

Acid Tablets –When your symptoms are caused by acid reflux, consulting a doctor to treat it is important.

Apnea Treatments – Sleep apnea can be cured with the countless treatment options available. Although these treatments are not meant to cure panic attacks, by relieving the trigger, you can more likely prevent future attacks.

Calm Down –Your body and mind should calm down to prevent panic attacks at night. You should teach your brain that the things that it is fearful of are ok.

Panic Cheat Sheet –Have something near your bed that will help you regain control when you wake up in a panic. On a sheet of paper, create a list of reminders, such as it is just the sleep apnea’, Try taking slow, deep breaths’ and do not forget to go back to sleep’, to calm you down.

Have a glass of warm milk- to encourage sleepiness, or have a cup of herbal tea before bedtime to relax your mind and body.

Meditation Practicing some meditation techniques before you sleep can calm your mind and body.

Breathing –Perform a breathing exercise to get your breathing back under control. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. This will help relax your heart and your mind, making it easier for the nocturnal panic attack to go away quickly.

Other treatments for nocturnal panic attacks include administration of anti-anxiety medications, listening to soothing music before bedtime, eliminating night time consumption of caffeine and chocolate, and control of breathing disorders and gastrointestinal reflux.