Ugh.. Panic attacks at night.
From my own personal experience of suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, regardless of the time of day, I have found that they’re most common, and increased in severity, in the morning and again at night. In fact, I’ve lost count of how many times I found myself waking up with panic attack. But what causes anxiety at night?
Panic attacks late at night are the hardest form of panic to deal with. The sun has gone down and friends, family and/or significant others aren’t on hand. Unfortunately, for the particularly anxious folk, it’s not uncommon that when left to your own devices the fear of whether or not a panic attack is about to rear it’s ugly head gets added to life’s general worries.
(If you’ve ever experienced a panic or anxiety attack at night – which is how I presume you’ve found my website! – you will know that the fear of when the next one will strike can be both extremely overwhelming and draining. Not sure if you’re experiencing anxiety? Try what does anxiety feel like.)
What causes panic attacks at night?
Sometimes at night when I hop into bed I find myself fixating on life’s general worries;
- Did I forget to do something that I should have?
- Did I embarrass myself by saying something stupid earlier in the day/week/month?
- Did I pay the electricity bill that’s already 3 days overdue?
Focusing on worrying thoughts can often escalate into having a full blown panic attacks in the evening however there isn’t always logical reasoning behind them.
Sometimes it’s physical, with possibilities including;
- Low activity levels resulting in unspent energy
- Sensitivity to caffeine consumption
- Lack of sleep from the night before
Or, perhaps the cause of your nocturnal anxiety attacks are completely out of your control;
Have you ever experienced a sudden jolt or jerk when falling asleep? Often confused as being one of the symptoms of panic attacks at night, this is a sensation that many people suffering from panic attacks at night experience and is known as a ‘hypnic jerk’. When the body begins to transition from an alert to a sleeping state it is very common for people to awaken suddenly. This jolt from nowhere can be quite frightening and for those susceptible to anxiety, the sudden shock can bring on waves of panic.
Pin pointing what causes night panic attacks is very much trial and error but the three focus areas above should get you started!
How to stop panic attacks at night
Below are a few of my own personal tips that have helped me combat the anxious thoughts and panic attacks that I have had late at night over the years.
1. Write down your worries before you go to bed.
If need be, also write down what you plan to do about each worry. Or in my case, where I worry that I haven’t shut the side gate so that the dog can’t get out, I quickly check to make sure that I have. The difference between worrying for an hour as to whether or not the side gate is shut and the act of actually checking, which takes 30 seconds, can often mean the difference between tossing and turning to get to sleep or falling asleep within minutes.
2. Try not to fixate on whether or not you’re going to have a panic attack tonight.
Affirmations really help with this one. Some of the things I tell myself include:
- “I’ve had panic attacks at night before, and survived.”
- “If I have another panic attack tonight, I will survive.”
- “Worrying won’t change anything.”
- “It is not the end of the world.”
3. Experiment with natural sleeping aids to find what works for you.
Switch your focus to what you can change about your nightly routine that will set you up for a panic-free good nights sleep. Suggestions:
- Valerian – A natural herb usually taken about an hour before bed that promotes a calming effect and induces sleepiness
- Light exposure – Reduce your exposure to negative light sources such as TV and backlit displays to help your mind settle down before bed
- Music – Playing soft soothing music when going to sleep can distract your thoughts and often you’ll find yourself asleep well before the music stops playing
- Exercise – Exercising before bed produces feel-good hormones and as your body feels ready for rest it is ultimately easier to drift off to sleep
- Relaxation techniques – Deep breathing and meditation as well as tensing and releasing your muscles brings your mind into the present and away from negative thoughts
Night time panic attacks CAN be overcome!
If you’ve suffered from night time panic attacks, it is actually proven to be more likely to happen again due to the worry of an seemingly ‘impending’ episode. The more worried or anxious you are about falling asleep because of night time panic attacks, the more likely you will have one. It’s a vicious cycle.
Are you familiar with the quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”? Ultimately, and albeit a lot easier to say than put into practice, the less importance you give to whether or not you are going to experience panic attacks at night, the less of them you will have. By combining that mentality with some of the anti-anxiety suggestions mentioned above you should be well on your way to sleeping soundly.
If your panic attacks at night are particularly severe however, it may be necessary to up the ante with your anti-anxiety techniques and/or methods, something which will be covered in a future article.