The Causes and Solutions to Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Nocturnal Panic Attacks: What They Are and What You Need to Know

You wake up from a deep sleep in a state of high anxiety. As your heart races and your respiration quickens, you may be convinced you are having a heart attack. But while cardiac arrest shares similar symptoms with the physical aspects of a nocturnal panic attack, the similarities stop there. Although you may feel like you are dying, in reality, nocturnal panic attacks are not permanently harmful. In fact, nocturnal panic attacks are very similar to regular panic attacks – the only difference being, of course, that you are asleep when the panic is triggered. If you suffer from any anxiety disorder, especially if you experience panic attacks during daylight hours, the chances are great that you will experience a nocturnal panic attack at some point in your life. Studies show that two out of five people who experience panic attacks regularly will also experience nocturnal panic episodes.

The Basics of Nocturnal Panic Attacks (NPAs)

Nocturnal panic attacks are triggered when the body transitions from stage two sleep, which is light, to stage three sleep, which is deep sleep. This usually occurs within 90 minutes of falling asleep. No one knows exactly why this transition can cause a panic attack, but several theories abound. Some experts believe that if you are prone to sleep apnea, you may trigger a panic attack by gasping for breath, which causes the same “flight or flight” response in the body as hyperventilating when awake. Other experts feel that gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) can trigger panic attacks. The burning feeling in your chest that occurs when gastric juices move back up the esophagus can trigger feelings of anxiety while you sleep, causing you to awaken. Others argue that laryngospasm, a condition in which the vocal cords tighten as you sleep, may also cause pain and therefore feelings of panic. While all of these triggers cause a physical sensation that triggers the panic, some experts argue that some people are simply predisposed to nocturnal anxiety attacks because their subconscious is so reluctant to “surrender” power and relax.

One of the most popular misconceptions about nocturnal panic attacks is that they are the same thing as nightmares. But if you have ever awakened from one in the middle of the night, you know that you don’t recall any kind of dream that precipitated your sudden onset of panic. That’s because nightmares generally occur during stage four of sleep – the deepest sleep stage you experience. Nocturnal panic attacks, as we know, are triggered when the body transitions between stages two and three.

The Effects of Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Noctural panic attacks may not cause the same devastating physical effects that a heart attack will cause, but they can be disruptive to people’s lives nonetheless. People who suffer from them may not be able to get adequate sleep or they may feel too nervous about falling asleep because they fear the nocturnal panic attacks so greatly. Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences on people’s emotional and physical well-being. If you suffer from nocturnal panic attacks, it’s imperative that you get help for your condition.

In a study conducted by the Penn State College of Medicine in 2009, the physicians discovered a link between panic disorder, NPAs, and depression. In fact, people are more likely to suffer from depression if they have been diagnosed with panic disorder and report NPAs. In addition, people who have NPAs and depression are highly likely to experience insomnia and sleep disturbances. In fact, 92.3% of patients in this survey reported sleep issues.

Not having enough sleep can actually have a devastating effect on your health. In children, lack of sleep can make children unable to learn and to process information, which can seriously impede their progress in school. In adults, lack of sleep can cause major health issues, such as an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, hypertension, obesity, and heart attack. Too little sleep will also contribute to anxiety, drowsiness, irritability, trouble focusing, difficulties with paying attention, learning and remembering problems, migraines, and depression. These factors can put you at risk for serious incidents, such as car wrecks and industrial accidents because your fatigue can impair your judgment. One expert likened a lack of sleep to driving while drunk, so it’s not something to take lightly.

Treatment for Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Begin by seeing a physician to make sure that you don’t suffer from any of the physical triggers that can cause panic attacks, such as sleep apnea, GERD, or laryngospasm. A doctor can help prescribe a treatment regimen to correct these ailments. In addition, your physician may advise you to change your diet, cutting back on your consumption of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as these substances can make it more difficult for you to get adequate sleep at night. Your doctor may also advise you to increase your exercise regimen, making sure to get between 30 and 45 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times per week. Exercise has proven stress reduction effects on the body and can help you sleep more easily at night.

In addition to dietary and lifestyle changes, you should seek out a self-help regimen that will help you ease the anxiety you feel upon wakening with an NPA. Using several different techniques, including breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), you can seize control of your body and your mind even when your heart is racing and you can’t catch your breath. Self-help courses can help you identify which type of techniques work best for your own particular needs when you have a panic attack, allowing you to customize your treatment for the most effective response.

In addition, self-help regimens are more affordable than seeing a traditional therapist. For the price of one 1-hour session with a psychiatrist, you can get an entire self-help treatment course that will help you conquer your fears for good. Self-help courses are also more confidential than counseling, as insurance companies never need to get involved. So if you do have NPAs and want to seek out a treatment option without compromising your privacy.  Click below to find out ore about a wonderful program that I think can help you tremendously with overcoming panic attacks.  If you decide to purchase, I’ll make a bit of money too, but what’s the harm with that? 

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