What Are Nocturnal Panic Attacks and Why Do They Happen To Me?
Nocturnal panic attacks are panic attacks that you have at night while sleeping. Panic attacks are themselves immensely stressful events, and when these attacks happen at night, the combination of night and fear is really horrible. You wake up in a horror, sweating and thinking that something worse is happening. This terrifying experience is very horrible, because you do not know that you are going to have an attack. Although these attacks usually last for less than 10 minutes, it may take a while to calm down and get back to sleep. It becomes quite difficult to get back to sleep immediately and some people fear sleeping, as they become worried that they will experience a panic attack again.
The symptoms of nighttime panic attacks are quite alarming and can mimic those of heart attack or other serious medical conditions. You may experience:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Heavy breathing (hyperventilation)
- Hot Flashes
- A sense of impending doom.
You may also feel a little foggy and lightheaded. You may feel that you are still dreaming or that you are watching yourself from a distance.
People who worry more than others, it could be because of their personality, current circumstances, or past or childhood experiences; typically have night panic attacks. Studies suggest that between 50% – 70% of people with panic disorder will experience at least one nocturnal attack during their lifetime. Experts argue that some people whose subconscious is so reluctant to surrender power and relax are more prone to experience these type of attacks. People suffering from other types of mental health disorders are at higher risk as well. These disorders include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
- Substance related disorders
- Social anxiety disorder and
- Generalized anxiety disorder
How Long They Last
Even though the fears and symptoms of nocturnal – panic – attacks tend to reach a peak within 10 minutes and then subside, you may feel anxious long after symptoms diminish. It is possible for you to remain keyed up, finding it difficult to settle down and fall back to sleep.
What Happens During
As you fall into deep sleep, your breathing and heart rate slows down. Your brain is on high alert for changes in the body and it may misinterpret this normal slowing down of your body, as a potential threat and give you a stress response. This is what you feel when you suddenly wake up from a deep sleep in a state of high anxiety. Your heart pounding, you jump out of bed in a flash, sweating and shaking. If this experience happens frequently, it may start to make you fear going to sleep or going to bed. This fear of sleeping may cause you additional anxiety and you are more likely to wake again during the night. Not having enough sleep can have serious consequences on your emotional and physical well-being. These night time attacks have the potential to disrupt your life as the symptoms can startle you to wake out of your sleep and may contribute to sleep issues and prevent you from feeling well-rested throughout the day.
If your anxiety levels are high, your brain will be constantly scanning your body and your environment for possible things that it needs to alert you to. This can wake you from sleep. Nighttime panic attacks have several possible causes, such as:
- Chemical Imbalance: The body consists of various neuro transmitters in the brain. When there is an imbalance in the level of these neuro transmitters, it leads to depression, fear and anxiety, which lead to panic attacks in the night.
- Vitamin B Deficiency: People with vitamin B deficiency are prone to attacks.
- Genetics: People with a family history of nocturnal – panic – attacks are bound to suffer from this disease.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This blocks the airway and causes hypo-ventilation. While most people suffering from OSA wake up, but go – back – to sleep without even realizing it, some people notice these symptoms and wake up with much panic. They hyperventilate and this may cause a panic – attack.
- Acid Reflux: This disease has symptoms that include chest pains, pressure in the chest, difficulty in breathing, hyperventilation and sometimes, headaches and even night sweats. These can cause panic and lead to a serious panic attack.
- Hyperventilation Disorder: This chronic problem affects many people with panic attacks. Anxiety and stress are the main reasons for hyperventilation, but generally you are less likely to experience this problem when you are asleep. However, some people have poor breathing habits and this may lead to hyperventilation.
- Frequent Nightmares: Frightful nightmares may wake you up from sleep in horror and this may lead to a panic attack.
- Various Medications: In some cases, attacks at night are the side effects of some medications.
Any panic attack can be perceived as a very stressful and frightening ordeal, but nocturnal panic attacks can be even more difficult to manage. However, with proper lifestyle changes and treatment you can manage them well.