Understanding Sleep Panic Disorder And What Having It Means For You

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/10/2020

Sleep Panic Disorder

It can be terrifying to wake up and suddenly be in the grips of a serious panic attack. Having an anxiety attack in sleep is not something that everyone with panic disorder experiences, but it winds up being very similar to having a panic attack during the daytime. You’ll experience the same type of symptoms that you might have during typical panic attacks. This means that your heart will likely race, you might experience chest pain, shortness of breath, hyperventilating, chills, and so much more. Why would something like this occur while you’re trying to sleep, though?

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Nocturnal panic attacks don’t necessarily have a discernible cause, and you won’t know why you feel the way you do when you wake up. All that you’ll know is that you had a panic attack while sleeping and that it has interrupted your normal sleep cycle. These anxiety attacks while sleeping are not only a nuisance, but they’re also very disconcerting. It might make you feel nervous about going to sleep if you know that you have panic attacks at night somewhat frequently. This is why it’s best to understand sleep panic disorder and what having it means for you.

You Can’t Necessarily Stop Sleep Panic Disorder Attacks From Happening.

The first thing to know is that you can’t necessarily stop night panic attacks from happening. You’re not going to be able to fight these nightly panic attacks in some traditional way. You can go over some methods to try to keep them from happening as frequently, but you need to accept that this might happen to you from time to time. The best thing to do for your sanity is to simply accept that this will happen and prepare for it. Get ready to deal with the night panic attacks when they happen.

Most people say that getting up to do something is for the best when they’ve had a night panic attack. Trying to go right back to sleep might not be possible since you will be wound up from your panic attack experience. Consider getting up to do something productive for an hour or two so that you can calm down. This should get you to feel more settled, and you’ll likely be able to go back to sleep eventually. It might be frustrating to have your sleep cycle interrupted like this, but you can at least try to get to a place where you can get back to sleep.

As for what types of things you can get up to do, that is largely going to be up to you. Some people like to do restful activities such as reading a book, watching a TV show, or playing a game. It might be better to do something that will give you light physical activity. For example, you could clean your house a little bit or do the dishes. Getting your laundry done would also be an efficient way to use your time. Whatever you decide to do, just know that you’ll want to focus on chilling out so that you can eventually get a few more hours of sleep.

Try To Develop A Consistent Sleep Schedule to Help with Sleep Panic Disorder

Trying to develop a consistent sleep schedule is probably going to be for the best, too. Some people have noted that keeping irregular hours seems to exacerbate night panic attack issues. If you aren’t able to keep a consistent schedule due to the type of job you have, you’ll just have to cope as best you can. However, it’s definitely good to try to get your body used to a normal sleep pattern. Ideally, you should want to get around eight hours of sleep each night, and it’s good to schedule things so that you can get that amount of sleep most nights.

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On nights that you have panic attacks, you might wind up sleeping a little less. If it’s possible to do so, it might be better to let yourself sleep in so that you will have the energy to handle your daily responsibilities. If you need to get up for work, you should try to get back to your normal sleep schedule the following night. Consistency has helped some with nocturnal panic attacks to have fewer problems over time. This might not make your panic attacks disappear, but it should help a bit.

Limit Caffeine And Alcohol Intake to Limit Symptoms of Sleep Panic Disorder

You might not know this, but caffeine can actually make your anxiety feel worse than usual. If you’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety while sleeping, then it’s possible that you could be drinking too many caffeinated drinks throughout the day. When this happens, it can make you feel more anxious than normal, and it can also impact your sleep patterns. You know that caffeine is a stimulant and that it can wake you up in the morning. Drinking too much caffeine late in the day can keep you from being able to fall asleep like normal.

It has even been suggested in the past that chronic caffeine use can cause panic attacks in people who have panic disorder. You should take steps to either cut your caffeine intake significantly or eliminate it entirely. It might even be wise to talk to your doctor about caffeine since it could be reacting negatively with certain medications that you’re taking. If you can make better decisions about the stuff that you’re drinking on a daily basis, then you might have far fewer panic attacks.

Alcohol can have a similarly bad impact on your anxiety, and it’s going to be better for you to avoid drinking. If you’ve already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, then you should probably know that drinking is something that could cause you to have more issues with your anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant, and this is going to alter your mood substantially. Drinking to the point of excess can also cause you significant sleep problems which can make your life even more complicated.

Those who have a panic disorder will have significant complications when they choose to drink alcohol. This could be causing you to have panic attacks at night or it could at least be contributing to how frequently you’re having panic attacks. Some people try to use alcohol to calm down when they’re feeling anxious, but this actually just makes things worse.

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It’s also important to note that alcohol is not meant to be consumed with many types of anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. If you’re having panic attacks, then there is a good chance that you might be on medications to help you with your issues. Drinking alcohol with medications can cause bad reactions and it could even be life-threatening depending on what medications you’re on. Please do your best to follow your doctor’s advice and take your prescription medications responsibly.

Get Professional Help for Sleep Panic Disorder

Getting professional help can make managing panic attacks a lot simpler overall. You should definitely talk to your doctor or therapist if something has changed with your anxiety issues or panic attacks. If you haven’t yet been properly diagnosed with anxiety or a panic disorder, then you need to go see your doctor or therapist as soon as you can. Panic attacks can be quite debilitating and will really sap your energy, but you can manage them effectively with help.

If you need some convincing that you could use some help, then take this simple panic disorder test. This isn’t a diagnosis tool, but it is something that might motivate you to go talk to your doctor. Many people are nervous about opening up to their doctors, but it’ll be a good experience. You can get the right help for your issues so that you can sleep better at night once more.

Other Treatment Options for Sleep Panic Disorder Include:

Taking anti-anxiety medication might actually help you to get rid of panic attacks if your issues are mild. Many patients note far fewer instances of anxiety attacks when they are taking proper medications. There are also medications that you can take when you feel a panic attack happening. If you wake up in the grips of a panic attack, then this could be an effective way to calm yourself down so that you can get back to sleep.

Many people also go to therapy sessions to help deal with anxiety issues that are at the core of why these panic attacks are occurring. You can learn how to deal with panic attacks more effectively to minimize the impact that they will have on your life. It’s great for you to have a helpful therapist that cares about you, and you’ll be able to reach out whenever you’re having a particularly tough time. There are even convenient options such as online therapy to make it simple to get help without leaving the house.