Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. There are several reasons you might be prevented from getting enough sleep. Physical discomfort, racing thoughts, and demanding schedules can prevent you from getting seven to nine hours of sleep before the next day begins.
According to the CDC, a lack of sleep is connected to a host of other issues such as obesity, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
In some cases, sleep issues aren’t caused by inconsistent schedules or physical problems. Instead, co-occurring issues may cause symptoms like sleeplessness. Anxiety and panic disorders often go hand-in-hand with insomnia and other sleep disorders. Learn more about panic disorders and sleeplessness.
What Are Nocturnal Panic Attacks?
Several different psychological disorders can cause panic attacks. Though they are commonly associated with panic disorders, they can also be caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, and phobias. They are also associated with some physical disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.
A nocturnal panic attack is when you are awoken suddenly from sleep with symptoms of panic. They come with the same symptoms as a daytime episode, with the main difference that they can interrupt sleep with seemingly no trigger.
Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
Waking up with panic can cause disorientation, which can worsen panic symptoms. For many, it’s difficult to go back to sleep after waking up with a panic attack.
Other Ways Panic Disorders Can Prevent Sleep
Not all panic-related sleep issues involve waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. Episodes of panic characterize panic disorders, but it’s not the only time symptoms manifest. Panic disorders can cause anxiety between panic attacks. Episodes are so unpleasant that people with panic disorders often fear the return of another episode. This anxiety can make it hard to get to sleep and lead to insomnia.
Panic disorders can also cause physical symptoms that make you worry about your health. Symptoms can include heart palpitations, chest pains, and even numbness in your hands. Panic shares some symptoms with other issues that are more immediately dangerous, like heart attacks or strokes. People who have experienced these symptoms during a panic attack may worry there is something physically wrong with them. Seeking treatment can alleviate some of these fears, but ultimately, panic disorder needs to be addressed to effectively deal with anxiety.
Is It Safe to Sleep After a Panic Attack?
A panic attack can leave you feeling tired and anxious. In many cases, panic attacks involve the fear that something is medically wrong with you. Chest tightness and heart palpitations are common with panic disorders, so people often fear they are having a heart attack. However, panic attacks don’t usually cause any light-threatening symptoms on their own, but they often feel like your life is in danger. Realizing that you are safe and not in danger after a panic attack can help you calm down.
Panic is a product of your fight-or-flight response. It will come with a physiological reaction that increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and mental vigilance. Your body is preparing for strenuous physical activity as if you will have to fight or run. After a panic attack, you may be physically tired, mentally drained, and anxious.
Waking up with anxiety or panic attack symptoms can make it feel even worse. Being woken up by anything negative can be an uncomfortable experience. However, a panic attack in the middle of the night can leave you feeling anxious and unsafe. But a panic attack at night wouldn’t put you in danger, even if it feels like it.
Not only is it safe to sleep after a panic attack, but it may also help you recover from one. Because a panic attack can leave you feeling drained, if you have time for at least 30 minutes of sleep and downtime, you may feel better afterward.
How Sleep Affects Panic Disorders
Sleep problems are common in the United States. Despite their ubiquity, they can lead to several serious consequences. Sleep issues can affect your mental and physical health. Panic disorders can have a serious impact on your sleep, but sleep problems can also have an impact on mental health issues.
There are other anxiety disorders, physical problems, and other factors that can contribute to sleep issues. Diagnosing a panic disorder can be challenging for medical and clinical professionals. Because it involves physical symptoms, a proper diagnosis should involve a medical exam from a doctor and any tests they see as necessary.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), you must experience panic attack symptoms regularly for your issue to qualify as a panic disorder. The DSM-5 also says panic symptoms can’t be accounted for by drugs or prescriptions, or by other mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress.
Recovering From Nocturnal Panic Attacks
The aftermath of any panic attack can be stressful, especially if you have a panic attack in your sleep. Quality sleep is important, and if you can recover and get back to sleep, you can get some needed rest. There are some techniques to help you calm down that you can try in addition to any treatment options recommended by your doctor or therapist.
Breathing exercises can help to slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. As your body’s biological response to panic starts to slow down, your mind may start to calm down with it. You can try several breathing techniques, but slow, controlled, deep breaths are a good place to start.
Panic and anxiety often come with negative thoughts and catastrophization. Positive self-talk and affirmations seem cliche, but they can help remind you that you aren’t in danger and that you are safe to relax. Tell yourself that you aren’t in immediate danger. Remind yourself that the panic attack will pass soon.
Talk to a loved one. While your options may be limited in the middle of the night, talking to a loved one can help you calm down and gain perspective when your mind is racing.
Sometimes trying to fall asleep when you’re experiencing insomnia can make you more anxious. If you lie awake for 20 minutes, try getting up and doing something else. You may find it easier to sleep when you return to bed.