Panic Attacks at Night – Causes and Treatment


Dealing with panic attacks during the day is hard enough for most people given the pressure you get from the rest of the human race not understanding that you don’t have control over the situation. And, while you’d expect things to be better when alone, night time panic attacks are on many levels worse. Perhaps that’s because it combined with fear as well as darkness. But, before we look at panic attacks at night, what are panic attacks?

Panic attacks refer to the abrupt onset of the nerve-wrecking discomfort and crippling fear which reaches its peak within minutes. While some people may think that you are overreacting, you need to know that you are having a panic attack if any of these four symptoms present:

  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Pounding heart or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Paresthesia
  • Fear of losing control
  • Derealization or depersonalization
  • Fears of dying

Experiencing these symptoms at night, is, therefore, at the zenith of fear. You feel like everything is going downhill at once hence the physical and psychological sensations experienced.

The attacks leave you with considerable, and the associated fear makes you dread having another panic attack.

Nocturnal panic attacks are often worse than the daytime attacks – imagine waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, your speech is barely comprehensible, and you are certain that something horrible is about to happen to you, and the worst bit is that you cannot see it coming! Gruesome, isn’t it?

On top of that, the fear controls your life – you don’t know when you will get your next attack, you become more fearful, and in the end, you are in a vicious panic-attack controlled cycle. It is also one of the main causes of insomnia – naturally, it would be impossible to fall asleep after the scare.

Panic attacks are expected or unexpected with known and unknown causes respectively. The most common known causes include fears/ phobias or being in environments which remind the individual of a traumatic event.

So, what cause nocturnal panic attacks?

To understand how you could control panic attacks at night, you have to understand the causes of the condition (and the resultant panic disorder). While daytime panic attacks lack definitive causes, nighttime panic attacks appear to result from a wide range of issues which include:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

It’s the most common culprit which occurs when there is obstruction of the upper airway. The airway obstruction could be caused by a person’s tissues or fats following the relaxation of the throat muscles. This condition will block your airway to a point where you stop breathing for at least 30 seconds resulting in hyperventilation. Hyperventilation, a condition associated with panic attacks stresses the heart, and it causes symptoms which mimic heart disease.

Does everyone with obstructive sleep apnea go into a panic? No. It appears that most people fall back to sleep without noticing what happened. However, some people are so attuned to their bodies to the extent that they notice everything happening in their bodies. For these sensitive individuals, once they hyperventilate hoping to regain their breath, they get panic attacks.

Hyperventilation Disorder

As mentioned above, this is a common problem for people who suffer from panic attacks. The hyperventilation results from stress or extreme anxiety and when one is sleeping, they are likely to hyperventilate, getting panic attacks in the process.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Also called acid reflux, GERD could be another cause of panic attacks at night. Symptoms of GERD include labored breathing, chest pain, and pressure, as well as hyperventilation, night sweats, and headaches. These symptoms mimic serious health issues, and they could wake you up triggering serious panic attacks.

Other Conditions associated with panic attacks

  1. Panic disorder
  2. Generalized anxiety disorder
  3. Post-Traumatic stress disorder
  4. Agoraphobia
  5. Acute stress disorder
  6. Phobias
  7. Obsessive Compulsive Behavior

Dealing with nocturnal panic attacks

  • Physical Exercises and Weight Loss strategies especially if dealing with obstructive sleep apnea. These strategies are effective in curbing hyperventilation
  • Find GERD treatment or take acid reflux tablets
  • Develop a panic attack cheat sheet to help you get over the fears
  • Get enough sleep to curb stress and anxiety. You should also reduce your caffeine intake hours before bed and stick to a nighttime routine.


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