How to Stop Panic Attacks at Night

by | Apr 18, 2024 | Anxiety, Blogs

Night should be a calm and restful time to recover from the day’s activities. For people who have panic attacks or a panic disorder at night, it becomes a time filled with anxiety and fear instead of rest. Panic attacks at night, also called nocturnal panic attacks, happen suddenly and cause intense fear while you are sleeping. This can mess up your sleep and make life harder.

Different things, like stress, anxiety, or sleep problems, can cause panic attacks at night. These attacks can make it hard for someone to do their daily activities. Those who experience nocturnal panic attacks may feel lonely due to the quiet, and worries can seem bigger. It’s important to know what causes these attacks and how they happen to control them. But just knowing isn’t enough. People need real ways to handle these attacks to find peace and sleep better at night.

Dealing with panic attacks at night requires a thorough plan that includes figuring out why they happen, using ways to calm down when they occur, and making changes to your daily habits to lessen the frequency of them. This guide is designed to help you manage panic attacks at night and hopefully stop them. We’ll look into why these attacks happen, share tips for quick relief during an attack, and recommend changes you can make in your life to help stop them.

Quick Takeaways

     

      • Nighttime panic attacks disrupt sleep and overall health

      • Identifying triggers, like stress or trouble sleeping, is important for prevention.

      • Having a calming routine before bed can make it less likely for you to have panic attacks.

      • Learning and practicing methods like deep breathing and mindfulness during an episode can help you regain control and reduce the severity of the attack.

      • Changing daily habits, including improving your diet, incorporating exercise, and having a consistent sleep schedule, supports mental health and reduces panic attacks.

      • If panic attacks continue despite your best efforts, consulting a mental health professional can provide you with tailored advice and treatment options, including therapy or medication.

    What Causes Panic Attacks at Night?

    Panic attacks at night might seem unexpected, but they happen because of certain issues that build up and cause these episodes at night. Studies have found that about 44% to 71% of people who are diagnosed with panic disorder will have a panic attack at night at least once.¹ Knowing what causes them, we can understand why they happen and find ways to control or stop them. Several factors contribute to panic attacks at night, including:

       

        • Sleep Disorders

        • Trauma and PTSD

        • Substance Use

        • Medication Side Effects

        • Health Conditions

        • Lifestyle Factors

        • Genetics and Family History

      Identifying and addressing the underlying causes, with the assistance of a healthcare provider, is the best method to manage or prevent nocturnal panic attacks.

      Understanding Your Anxiety Cycle

      Anxiety can start during the day and worsen at night, leading to panic attacks due to fewer distractions from our worries. Recognizing triggers, panic attack symptoms, and thought patterns helps manage anxiety and prevent panic attacks. Here are a few tips:

         

          1. Track your anxiety

          1. Identify thought patterns

          1. Learn your physical responses

          1. Practice mindfulness

          1. Seek support

        These steps can help you understand your anxiety cycle more clearly.

        How Do Stress and Anxiety Translate to Nocturnal Panic Attacks?

        Stress and anxiety can keep our nervous system on high alert, extending into the night and disrupting sleep. This heightened state can make us more aware of stress and physical sensations, increasing the risk of panic attacks. Managing stress during the day is important for reducing anxiety at night and achieving more peaceful sleep.

        How Do Sleeping Disorders Effect Night-Time Panic Attacks?

        Sleep disorders, like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs, disrupt normal sleep patterns, leading to poor sleep and increased stress. This makes panic attacks more likely at night. Fear of these attacks prevents falling asleep. Addressing sleep issues reduces night-time panic attacks, improves sleep quality, and stabilizes emotions.

        How Can You Prepare for Bed to Minimize the Risk?

        Making your bedroom a peaceful place for sleep and practicing relaxation techniques helps stop panic attacks at night. It’s important to get your mind and body ready for sleep, focusing on feeling calm and comfortable. To do this, try deep breathing, use relaxing scents like lavender, and make sure your bed is cozy. Having a set sleep schedule and waking up at the same time every day greatly helps.

        To reduce the likelihood of panic attacks before bed, consider adopting the following strategies:

        Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Include calming activities like a warm bath to soothe muscles, relaxation exercises such as gentle yoga to release tension, or reading a light book to shift your mind from stress.

        Limit Screen Time: Participate in screen-free activities like puzzle-solving or listening to soft music an hour before sleep to avoid blue light exposure, which can disrupt your sleep cycle.

        Practice Relaxation Techniques: Try deep breathing exercises, focusing on slow, deep breaths to calm the mind, progressive muscle relaxation, tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, or meditation through guided imagery to create a peaceful mental state.

        Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Improve your bedroom by making sure your mattress and pillows provide the right support, keeping a cooler room temperature, and using blackout curtains to block light and sound for a peaceful rest.

        Limit Caffeine and Heavy Meals Before Bed: Choose light, easily digestible meals and herbal teas instead of coffee or heavy foods that disrupt sleep and increase anxiety.

        Exercise Regularly: Include activities like a brisk evening walk or yoga, ensuring they’re completed a few hours before bed to avoid stimulating the body too close to bedtime.

        Stick to a Sleep Schedule: Maintain a regular sleeping and waking time to help set your body’s internal clock. Create a pre-sleep ritual to signal your body to wind down.

        Address Worries Before Bed: Practice a “worry time” earlier in the evening to write down concerns and brainstorm solutions, freeing your mind for rest.

        Limit Nap Times: If napping is necessary, do so early in the afternoon and don’t exceed 30 minutes to avoid affecting your nighttime sleep cycle.

        Seek Professional Help: For ongoing issues, consulting a therapist offers personalized strategies and support for managing anxiety and panic attacks effectively.

        Including these habits helps minimize the risk of panic attacks at night and improves overall sleep quality.

        What Should You Do If a Panic Attack Happens?

        Experiencing nocturnal panic attacks can be unsettling with the quiet and loneliness of the night. There are steps and long-term strategies you can use to manage and stop these episodes. Consider these adjusted strategies to work towards having more peaceful nights:

           

            • Identify the Attack: Recognize the signs of a panic attack after waking. Understanding what’s happening can lessen fear and help you regain control.

            • Deep Breathing: To calm the body, practice deep breathing exercises—inhale slowly through the nose, hold, and exhale through the mouth.

            • Relaxation Techniques: Use progressive muscle relaxation or visualization methods to relax your body and mind.

            • Use a Nightlight: A soft light can reduce anxiety if you wake up panicked in the dark.

            • Comforting Items: To feel secure, keep items that bring comfort, like a soft blanket or a favorite scent, close to your bed.

          These strategies focus on self-awareness, breathing, relaxation, light, and comfort to stop the effect of panic attacks at night and lead to more restful sleep.

          Immediate Steps to Take During a Panic Attack

          When a nocturnal panic attack strikes, the intense fear, and physical symptoms can be overwhelming. It’s important to focus on techniques that help you regain control and minimize the distress:

             

              • Deep Breathing: One of the best methods to reduce the physical signs of a panic attack, like chest pain and a fast heartbeat, is to practice deep breathing exercises. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and breathe slowly through your mouth. Doing this helps lessen panic symptoms by telling your body to calm down.

              • Grounding Techniques: Grounding techniques are helpful for dealing with the strong feelings of a panic attack and help you feel present. Pay attention to real, physical things near you, or list things you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Doing this can take your mind off worrying thoughts and reduce the panic attack’s effects.

            Developing a Post-Panic Attack Routine

            After experiencing a panic attack at night, it’s important to have a routine that soothes and reassures you, allowing you to return to a restful state:

               

                • Relaxation Techniques: Engage in relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation of muscle groups, guided imagery, or soothing music. These methods help calm your mind after an attack and promote a return to sleep without the fear of experiencing another episode.

                • Reassess Your Sleep Environment: Make sure your sleep environment promotes relaxation. Adjust the temperature, reduce noise, and ensure your bedding is comfortable. A conducive sleep environment improves your ability to fall asleep again after a panic attack.

              Can Lifestyle Changes Make a Difference?

              Long-term management of nocturnal panic attacks involves more than just responding to the episodes themselves. Lifestyle changes are important in reducing the frequency and intensity of nocturnal panic attacks:

                 

                  • Manage Stress: Chronic stress is a trigger for both nocturnal and daytime panic attacks. Techniques to manage stress, such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, reduce overall anxiety levels and decrease the likelihood of panic attacks.

                  • Healthy Diet and Exercise: Research suggests that a healthy diet and regular exercise can improve mental health conditions, including those contributing to panic attacks. Limit caffeine and avoid consuming too much caffeine, as it can increase anxiety and contribute to poor sleep quality.

                  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: For those experiencing frequent nocturnal panic attacks, it might be a symptom of underlying mental health conditions or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, nightmare disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To manage the condition effectively, consulting with a healthcare professional can provide a diagnosis and tailored treatment options, including talk therapy or medication.

                  • Exploring Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT might help change the negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety and panic attacks. If you’re not already working with a therapist, consider contacting your healthcare provider or insurance company to find out what options are available.

                Using certain strategies can help you deal with night-time panic attacks and improve your sleep. Although these attacks are upsetting, you can manage them with the right methods and support. Treating panic attacks’ symptoms and root causes lessen sleep disruptions and boosts overall mental and physical health. Being patient and persistent decreases how often and strongly these attacks happen, leading to calmer nights and better sleep.

                Conclusion

                To prevent panic attacks at night, establish a calming bedtime routine, reduce stress through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation, and create a comfortable sleep environment. Avoid stimulants like caffeine and limit screen time before bed. If panic attacks persist, consider seeking professional help to address underlying issues and learn effective coping strategies.

                Prioritizing your mental and physical well-being will reduce the occurrence of panic attacks at night, leading to more restful sleep and improved overall health.

                At Healing Psychiatry of Florida, we’re here to guide you toward a peaceful night’s sleep. Don’t let panic attacks control your nights—reach out to us and take the first step towards reclaiming your rest and well-being. Visit our website or contact us today for more information on how we can help you find calm and comfort during the night.

                How can I stop nocturnal panic attacks and ensure a good night’s sleep?

                To stop nocturnal panic attacks, it’s important to manage stress, create a calming pre-sleep routine, and address any underlying mental health conditions. Practices like deep breathing and relaxation techniques can calm the mind and body, reducing the likelihood of panic attacks at night. Ensuring a healthy diet, limiting caffeine intake, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule contribute to more peaceful nights.

                What are the common physical symptoms of a nocturnal panic attack?

                Common physical symptoms of nocturnal panic attacks include chest pain, excessive sweating, a racing or pounding heart, and intense fear. These symptoms can awaken you from sleep, leading to increased anxiety and difficulty returning to sleep.

                Can panic attacks at night be a sign of other sleep disorders?

                Yes, panic attacks at night can be associated with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, nightmare disorder, and primary nocturnal panic. These conditions may share some symptoms with nocturnal panic attacks, such as sudden awakening with a feeling of intense fear.

                What’s the difference between nocturnal panic attacks and night terrors?

                Nocturnal panic attacks and night terrors are distinct conditions. Nocturnal panic attacks involve sudden awakenings with intense fear and physical symptoms like chest pains, whereas night terrors typically occur in the first few hours of sleep and involve intense screaming, thrashing, and a fear response with little to no recollection of the event upon waking.

                How do I manage anxiety and panic attacks during the day?

                Managing daytime anxiety and panic attacks involves similar strategies to those used for nocturnal panic attacks. These include practicing relaxation techniques, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding too much caffeine. Talk therapy and cognitive-behavioral techniques are also effective in managing stress and reducing the frequency of panic attacks.

                What role does mental health play in experiencing panic attacks?

                Mental health conditions such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and generalized anxiety disorder can increase the likelihood of experiencing both nocturnal and daytime panic attacks. Addressing these underlying conditions through therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments can reduce the occurrence of panic attacks.

                Are there any relaxation techniques specifically recommended for preventing nocturnal panic attacks?

                Yes, relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing exercises are highly recommended for preventing nocturnal panic attacks. These techniques help reduce nighttime anxiety by focusing the mind on the present moment and relaxing the muscle groups.

                How can I differentiate between a panic attack and a heart attack at night?

                While panic attacks and heart attacks can share symptoms like chest pain and a pounding heart, they have different causes and manifestations. Panic attacks often come with a sudden wave of intense fear, while heart attack symptoms include pressure or squeezing in the chest and may be accompanied by symptoms like pain in the arm or jaw. If you’re unsure or experiencing these symptoms for the first time, seek immediate medical attention.

                What steps should I take if I experience panic attacks at night due to a traumatic event?

                Experiencing panic attacks at night due to a traumatic event may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s important to seek support from a healthcare professional who can offer talk therapy or other treatments tailored to your experience. Practicing self-care, establishing a supportive network, and possibly engaging in specialized therapy like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be beneficial.

                How effective is talk therapy in managing panic disorder and nocturnal panic?

                Talk therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is highly effective in managing panic disorder and nocturnal panic. CBT helps individuals identify and challenge the anxious thoughts that contribute to panic attacks, learn coping strategies, and gradually expose themselves to panic-inducing situations in a controlled manner, reducing the overall frequency and intensity of attacks.

                   

                    1. Do You Panic in the Night? You’re Not Alone, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-mental-health/202402/do-you-panic-in-the-night-youre-not-alone

                  Anastasiya Palopoli
                  Written by Anastasiya Palopoli

                  Anastasiya Palopoli, a board-certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, has extensive experience in nursing and psychiatric care, with degrees in Nursing from UCF and Psychiatric Mental Health from the University of Cincinnati. Following a residency in General and Child Psychiatry in Florida, she specializes in treating Dementia, psychosis, depression, and anxiety through holistic approaches. Beyond her professional life, she enjoys hiking, tennis, and traveling with her family.