What is a Nocturnal Panic Attack?

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Written By: Nazli Mohideen

A panic attack is generally described as a sudden feeling of intense anxiety. The overwhelming sensation of fear coupled with a multitude of physical symptoms brings some people to think that they are having a heart attack or are even dying when experiencing a panic attack. Some of these crippling symptoms include difficulty breathing, nausea, increased heart rate, shaking, sweating, hot flashes, and more. 

Depending on the severity of one’s anxiety, a single attack can last anywhere from a couple of minutes up to a couple of hours, and become more frequent, too. Stress, an anxiety or panic disorder, drug or alcohol withdrawal, or trauma can all be potential triggers for a panic attack. 

Nocturnal panic attacks, in a similar sense, are just as physically and mentally agonizing, but they happen at night and can occur without a trigger. They typically last only a couple of minutes, but if intense enough, might wake up the individual. 

Having nocturnal panic attacks is very common, and if someone suffers from panic attacks during the day, they are even more likely to have them at night. Symptoms are nearly identical, but since nocturnal panic attacks tend to shake one out of their sleep cycle, coping mechanisms vary. 

Practicing different breathing techniques and relaxing one’s muscles is key. However, it is also recommended to move around as well, just enough to distract oneself, but not add to any physical symptoms of the attack. Activities like listening to music, reading a little bit of a book, or practicing a short yoga flow are all suggested. Additional coping mechanisms include medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Equally as important, there are a few prevention tactics regarding nocturnal panic attacks. For one, having a consistent sleep schedule where an individual has an ample amount of rest lessens anxiety and therefore, the chance of a panic attack during the night. In addition, avoiding technology use before bed will help one not only fall asleep quicker, but stay asleep longer, too. Since the attacks are possibly triggered by substances like alcohol, and stimulants like caffeine and sugar, it is best to steer clear of these before bed as well. 

Even though there isn’t a cure-all to panic attacks, talking to your doctor will be the best way to see which treatment plan fits you and your needs. If you or a loved one is struggling with panic attacks, there is the Panic Attack Hotline to call at 1-800-64-PANIC (72642) where you can talk to staff during an attack, day or night.