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How to stop mini panic attacks when falling asleep

What is a mini panic attack

Mini panic attacks are short, sharp anxiety attacks that occur in the moments leading up to falling asleep. Most people have experienced them at least once in their lives.

They often go unnoticed, so you may not even realize you're having a panic attack until you're already in bed, and it's too late to do anything about it.

Why do mini panic attacks happen as you are falling asleep?

One common reason mini panic attacks happen when you are trying to sleep is that you are anxious about what might happen if you don’t get enough sleep.

Another common reason is because of what scientists call a myoclonic jerk. This is an involuntary muscle spasm that causes your body to jerk uncontrollably for a few seconds. This is often referred to as a "mini" panic attack because it usually only lasts a few seconds, but can still trigger a full-blown panic attack.

Yet another common reason for mini panic attacks at night is a tendency to experience hypnagogic hallucinations—sensory illusions that occur as you’re drifting off to sleep. These sensory illusions can be experienced as a sudden feeling like you are falling off a cliff as you are about to fall asleep.

Add lastly mini panic attacks can occur at the point of sleep due to pent up tension or stress caused by the day.

How common are nighttime panic attacks?

Nighttime panic attacks are very common. And according to Clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD 18% of panic attacks occur at night. This means that roughly one in every six panic attacks occurs at night. But how does this relate to you? If you are having panic attacks most nights, here are some things to think about.

What happens during a panic attack?


It is important to note that panic attacks are actually a sign that your body is functioning properly. What happens in a usual panic attack is that your body experiences something that triggers a release of adrenaline in response to stress. As your anxiety increases, you start experiencing Brain chemistry changes, rapid heartbeats and an increase in blood pressure. 

How Do You Know You’re Having a Panic Attack?

The way to tell that your panic attack is not some other dangerous life-threatening problem is by comparing your symptoms with the normal symptoms of panic attacks. You should notice a few key symptoms which include intense feelings of fear and anxiety. You may hear loud noises, your heart rate increases, chest pain and tightness, your vision may become blurred, you may feel dizzy or lose balance, you may get hot or cold flashes, or you might feel a sense of foreboding or dread. Your mind may be racing and you may have trouble concentrating. You might even notice your heartbeat speed up.

You may feel like you are going to die, pass out or have a panic attack, and it is important to remember that none of these things will happen if you relax and stay calm. 

How to Cope When You Have Panic Attacks

A common mistake most people make when they have a panic attack is that they try to force them to stop. This only makes the panic attack worse.

One common advice is to practice slowing your breathing down, but this can actually make your panic attack worse if one of your triggers is dizziness and blurry vision.

The best way to cope with a panic attack is to sit through it without doing anything. If you are able to do this, you will notice that the symptoms would gradually dissipate by themselves.

Can nighttime panic attacks be prevented?

Fortunately, the answer is yes, you can prevent nighttime panic attacks. It might not be easy, though, so you’ll need to try a few things.

The first step is to find the trigger for your nighttime panic attacks. What exactly causes you to wake up at night? Is it a certain sound? A certain scent? A particular feeling?

Once you’ve identified what sets you off, try to avoid the situation as much as possible.

If you can’t avoid a specific trigger, use strategies to reduce its effect.

How to Minimize Anxiety and Maximize Sleep

The most effective steps to improve sleep and reduce the likelihood of panic attacks at night include establishing a regular sleep routine is crucial. Try to stick to a consistent schedule that includes going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Set aside specific times for getting ready for bed, and avoid stimulating activities that may prevent you from falling asleep.

Limit the use of caffeine or alcohol before bed. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which makes it difficult to fall asleep, and alcohol disrupts sleep by keeping blood sugar low and inhibiting melatonin production.

Avoid stressful activities and activities that require concentration or attention before bed. Try to focus on things that bring you relaxation and calm.

Avoid watching television or other screens for at least two hours before bed. This allows the brain time to wind down before sleeping.

Minimize the use of electronics, such as smartphones and computers, before bed. Electronics emit blue light, which suppresses the release of sleep-inducing hormones, and can affect sleep quality. If you must use an electronic device, turn it off at least 30 minutes before bed.

Create a relaxing sleep environment. A warm room and soft lighting can help you fall asleep more quickly. Avoid scented candles and other strong smells that may be distracting. Make sure your bedroom is free of clutter, and if possible, keep your bedroom dark.

Minimize the stress in your life. If you’re experiencing chronic stress, try to identify what triggers your anxiety and find a solution. This could include exercising, eating healthier, or scheduling relaxing activities, such as reading a book or spending time with family and friends.

Prescription medications that help with panic attacks

Prescription medications that help with panic attacks
Body content: 

There are several prescription medications that can help with anxiety and panic attacks.

Here is a quick review of these medications with explanations of what side effects are expected and give my recommendations on which one to use based on your individual situation.

I will start with the least used option first and then move on to the most used.

First is Lorazepam. This is one of the most common and least expensive medications for treating anxiety and panic. It is given once or twice a night to help with panic attacks that occur during the middle of the night. It can help some people get a good night’s sleep, but it is not an effective solution for chronic anxiety and panic attacks. It has some potential side effects that can be serious. Common ones include:

• Sedation and slowed reaction times.

• Slowed thinking and coordination.

• Fatigue.

• Dizziness and headache.

If you feel like your anxiety and panic are severe, and you are having sleep problems, you should consider using a short-acting benzodiazepine like Temazepam or Triazolam, which can help you fall asleep better. Both of these medications can cause rebound insomnia, which means your sleep can be significantly worse on nights you do not take them. If this happens, you can use a sleep aid such as Ambien, Lunesta, or Trazodone to help you fall asleep again.  

Heart palpitations & rapid heart rate

Experiencing heart palpitations and increasing heart rates can be scary. The sudden onset of these feelings can occur at any time during the day, though typically they're experienced in the middle of the night. In other words, you may feel your heart pounding or be aware of an irregular heartbeat and feel shaky or sweaty. In rare cases, you may feel pain in the chest or upper arms, experience shortness of breath or dizziness.

Usually, there is no real threat to you if these symptoms are from a panic attack. However, because these symptoms are very similar to what happens with a heart attack

, many people mistakenly assume they are experiencing a heart attack. When this happens, it is important to remember that the vast majority of people who experience this sensation are not having a heart attack and are, in fact, having a panic attack.

The key thing to remember is that if you experience one or more of the above symptoms, do not drive yourself to a hospital. Instead, contact a family member or friend who can drive you and keep you safe. If the symptoms last longer than 10 minutes, seek emergency medical treatment.

What to do when sleep apnea triggers nighttime panic attacks

Sleep apnea is a condition where you stop breathing throughout the night. You may not notice that you're breathing for a few seconds, or you might even pass out. During this time you might feel like you're suffocating, and that's because you are! It's actually really scary!

So, what can you do If you struggle with sleep apnea and this is triggering panic attacks at night?

First, it's important to find out if this is an issue. Your doctor or dentist should be able to help you determine whether your sleep apnea is causing you panic attacks. If it is, they may recommend that you use a CPAP machine or other mask that helps you breathe.

If you decide to use a CPAP, it will be worn all night while you sleep. The CPAP will create a seal around your nose and chin so that it's airtight. If you aren't using the CPAP, try snoring back into your pillow. This creates a seal and prevents your airway from collapsing. The bottom line is that you need to prevent the airway from being blocked.

If you struggle with sleep apnea and this is triggering panic attacks at night, you may want to check out this article.


Should you be worried about sleep paralysis?

sleep paralysis is a condition where a person wakes up in the middle of the night but feels unable to move. The victim experiences hallucinations, feeling like they're being chased by an enemy, or having a terrifying experience such as being stabbed or falling from a great height. Sleep paralysis usually lasts less than a minute, but it's still extremely frightening to those who experience it. 

If you do experience sleep paralysis, please don't panic. It's a perfectly normal and harmless condition. 

Causes of sleep paralysis

It usually occurs during the transition between rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and is often accompanied by vivid dreams

Common causes of sleep paralysis include hypothyroidism, untreated sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders. 

Sleep paralysis could also occur as a result of poor sleeping habits, caffeine, alcohol and using certain types of medication.

Treating sleep paralysis

The following measures are very effective for treating sleep paralysis...

1. Reduce stress in your life, including worries about money, career, etc.

2. Increase your intake of vitamin D.

3. Drink lots of water throughout the day.

4. Be certain you are getting enough magnesium.

5. Do not eat anything right before you go to sleep.

6.  Try Sleeping on your stomach

7. Be careful not to wear glasses or contacts right before you go to bed.

8. Take necessary steps to improve your sleep schedule

sleep terrors and nocturnal panic attacks

Sleep terrors are episodes of fear and terror while sleeping. They often begin with a period of fear or confusion and are accompanied by physiological changes such as sweating or trembling. Many times, sleep terrors can be related to having an abnormal night’s sleep. The fear and distress of these events can persist for days or weeks after awakening.

The fear that sleep terror might occur in the future can become an overwhelming source of anxiety. If you can relate, it is crucial to not become obsessed with the need to stop them from happening. The more you are able to normalize them in your mind, the easier they may become to cope with.

Understanding how your sleep story contributes to more panic attacks at night

Your sleep story is a long list of things that you have experienced while sleeping, which might lead to an increase in anxiety or panic attacks at night. Sleep stories can cause problems for many people and can be especially problematic if you experience nightmares or flashbacks when you wake up.

To improve your sleep story, you can use a sleep story app like Calm or a mindfulness app like Headspace. These stories take you through a guided visualization of nice calming places that eventually help you fall asleep

Coping with the impact of stress at work, home or school

Stress is a constant part of life. When you’re faced with stressful situations you may experience symptoms that range from headaches, insomnia, nausea, and general anxiety to physical symptoms such as a racing heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased sweating, and even rapid breathing.

Common sources of stress include physical health issues, financial issues and  relationship troubles

If you are feeling stressed, you may not realize it until you find yourself having a mini panic attack or falling asleep in the middle of the day. If you’re dealing with stress at home or at work, a very helpful way to alleviate stress and find some relief is by following a process I call R.E.C.S.

Which means

  1. Restful activities
  2. Enjoyable activities
  3. Calming activities
  4. Soothing activities

I have placed the activities in this order to depict the power that these activities have on reducing stress (i.e. in my experience, for reducing stress; activity 4 is more powerful than activity 3 and activity 3 is more powerful than activity 2 and so on)

How behavioral therapy can help

Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on learning skills to help manage emotional reactions and behaviors. In short, it can help you control how you respond to stressful events and how you think about stressful situations.

Behavioral therapy can be delivered as individual sessions or as a group program. The latter can be particularly effective for children and adolescents. It can be helpful for any age, however, and may be more effective than medication for some people.

One of the most important skills in behavioral therapy is learning relaxation skills. Learning to relax can be challenging, especially if you have problems sleeping. When you can’t sleep, it’s easy to get anxious. Anxious thoughts keep you awake and often lead to anxious behavior – such as being unable to fall asleep. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to sleep, talk with your GP about finding a  therapy course that’s right for you.

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa


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