Panic attacks at night

Hi! My name is Jana, I'm 42 and have had panic disorder and anxiety for the last 10 years. I have nocturnal panic attacks that wake me up from sleep. I have gotten to the point where I dread the nighttime and going to bed. As a result, I get very little sleep. I have medication and have gone to therapy, but nothing stops the panic attacks from coming. I'm hoping to find some support on here and sharing with others who have had similar experiences. I am one who notices every little feeling inside my body, and that is very scary to me. And since I'm a single mom, I'm always scared that it's something besides a panic attack and I won't get help in time. I also am afraid of trying new medications because of my hypersensitivity to how I feel inside all the time. It's awful, and it's becoming a horrible cycle of fear. :(

31 Replies

  • hi, sorry you are in this situation. I would encourage you to make sure your home environment is safe, first and foremost, eg, do you have a carbon monoxide alarm... logically and rationally, when you are not in a panic, have a look at your surroundings and eliminate anything externally that could disturb your attempts to get sleep. next, get a bit of paper and jot down how you are during the day, are you generally healthy? Is there any evidence to suggest that there is something you want to have checked out, any niggles about your health, an ache here or there? when you are feeling ok, have a sensible think about what might be going on, write things down and talk regularly on this forum. share as much as you can because anxiety loves isolation and fear. I can tell you 100% that panic attacks will not and can not harm you, they are so tedious, but not life-threatening at all. support works wonders, reach out, you can help others too. I hope you are doing ok today. x

  • Thanks, Deborah! I made an appointment with my doctor for some peace of mind about my overall health, and am tweaking my diet--removing things that might contribute like caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate. I also just got out and got a bit of exercise, which helps tremendously! I had gotten rid of panic attacks for over a year when I was running almost every day. Perhaps that's my answer. But I will keep trying and keep hoping and keep staying positive!! I'm much better today, thanks for checking! :)

  • really great to hear! you are right, think exercise is so good for anxiety, the best. delighted to hear how positive you are today, keep on with the forum, another great support.xx

  • I know, I'm so glad I found this place! Especially at 3am when others are awake also, not just me by myself milling around. :)

  • Here are some tips that might help

    Avoid/eliminate sugar and caffeine especially in the afternoon/evening. They are fuel for anx/panic and insomnia. Artificial sweeteners aren't helpful either.

    Avoid news, politics and advertisements. All of them use fear to get your attention.

    Excercise regularly even if it's running in place or climbing the stairs Get the blood flowing and release good brain chemicals

    Use YouTube or podcasts apps to find meditations or self hypnosis for sleep or insomnia. I fall asleep to them and let them play to my subconscious while I sleep. I also use them if I wake up during the night to get my mind from overthinking and get back to sleep.

    Good luck

  • Great tips!! Thank you! I stopped caffeine a year and a half ago, but I ate a big piece of chocolate candy last evening. I'm changing up my eating and moving my bum, so hopefully things will get better!! :) Thanks again!

  • Hi Janaa,

    Getting quality sleep promotes good physical and mental health and wellbeing.

    So we have the list of do it yourself tips. That leaves any one of the many over the counter sleep aids available at your pharmacy (as for a consult with the pharmacist) or prescription medication.

    My doctor has prescribed mirtazapine at night which deals with anxiety and uses the sedative side effect for improving sleep.

    As a back up after 3 sleepless nights, an off-label prescription for low dose quetiapine has been prescribed for me as well. My psychiatrist suggested this improvement so general practitioners might not be so willing to consider. It is an unusual combination but works for me.

  • Just read your initial post and I have a sister who is the exact same way with the sensitivity to meds and panic attacks, although, she has had this for most of her life. I have had a handful of major panic attacks and I am so thankful that I don't have to endure them like you do. I feel for you because I know how unpleasant they are. I think you are getting good advice such as exercise, decrease caffeine products and alcohol. I wish I could offer more advice. My sister has been through everything and she still has to deal with these.

  • Thank you for this. I'm really trying to get to a place where I can get rid of them again. I did it before, and I have to believe I can do it again. It's a lot of work, and a LOT of change. Your poor sister. I can't imagine suffering my whole life, like you've described for yourself too. How are you feeling?

  • I get those too. They are the worst. I wish we could make them go away. I don't know what is causing them.Sometimes I take a Benadryl to make me sleepy but I know it is not the good for me so I have been taking a walk at night after dinner, even if it is just to the corner and back. I removed the tv from my room to create a "relaxing" environment. I use the calm app to get a few minutes of breathing exercises in before I go to sleep and if I wake up like that, I catch my breath and say to myself "I am safe at home in my bed, It is anxiety- just breathe. " This is the worst part of my anxiety.

  • I'm so sorry you have these too. I think not knowing what is causing them is the worst part, because do you ever think...what if it's something else that's not being caught by my doctor? And then the terror starts all over again. It sounds like you've made some really smart choices with the walking, moving the tv, and the relaxation. I'm almost to the point where I can convince myself that it's anxiety, nothing else, I'm not dying, and I just need to breathe through it. I just feel so uncomfortable and antsy that I get up, go to the living room, and walk circles around my couch--just to try to get rid of the uncomfortable way I feel. I have an appointment with my doctor on Wednesday morning. I'm gonna ask her to check me over just for my own peace of mind. This forum has really been the best thing ever! I never realized that so many people struggled with the exact same stuff as me! Just knowing the support is here is huge!! How are you feeling right now? I'm here anytime! Do you take anything besides benadryl?

  • Janaa1, I know exactly how you feel as I've suffered from nocturnal panic attacks for the last four years. They're scary, unnerving, and no one can understand unless they've gone through them. Someone on here said anxiety loves isolation. It's true. It loves making you stay in a perpetual cycle of fear. I tell myself that when I'm in the midst of an attack. Can I ask what some of your physical symptoms are during the nocturnal attacks? Mine were always racing heart, tingling fingers, etc. I have seen my dr and been told numerous times everything is fine but it's a daily struggle. One thing that's truly helped me is not eating or drinking anything a couple hours before bedtime, not consuming large meals during the day (I have small meals throughout the day), only 1-2 cups of coffee during the morning (and definitely none during the evening unless it's decaf), and then a meditation app I have. It's called INSIGHT TIMER and it's free. I use it before I go to bed and the deep breathing exercises have helped tremendously. I haven't had a panic attack in a while, or well, not the severity I used to have. I still have them but I'm DEALING with them better. And the better I deal with them, the quicker they go away. Not giving in to the anxiety is key. "Peace From Nervous Suffering" is also a great book that helped me too.

    I know it sounds silly, but my biggest prob right now is getting back into the gym. Because elevating my heart rate during exercise is the same type of feeling during a panic attack, it scares me to do so, and I have a tendency to avoid it. So I've been working on it, little by little. Trying not to let fear paralyze me. I want to start running again.

  • Hi there! :)

    Yes, boy that phrase "anxiety loves isolation" has really stuck with me ever since I read it. It's so true. It really is so hard to believe when they're happening that it's not something else, because the symptoms mimic those of other horrible, terrifying events. When I have one, I get up and walk circles around my couch in the living room and tell myself that as long as I can still walk, I'm ok. I have just come to realize that eating big meals causes them, and also eating late because my body is digesting and I feel it and am hyper-aware of every little feeling. My symptoms are all physical, and they happen when I am most at peace and rest and not stressing (my life is pretty stress-free anyway, which makes it even harder for me to understand why I have these--must be a brain imbalance). I will wake up with my heart racing and I feel like my insides are running if that makes sense. I get shaky and dizzy and feel like I'm about to pass out any second, but never do. If it's severe enough sometimes I'll cry. I feel a sense of urgency, like I'm coming out of my skin, and I get tingly hands sometimes too. I've also had my tongue go numb. It's just the worst, and I'm sorry you have been experiencing them too, and for so long. Do you take any medication? A tiny dosage of Xanax will stop the symptoms and calm me down within 30 minutes, and I've NEVER become addicted.

    You don't sound silly at all about the gym. I think that a lot of people with anxiety don't exercise for that very reason. I don't go because I feel insecure and self-conscious around all the other people there. I'm a runner too, but I'm starting out again with just walking. I hope you get back out there! I've gotten to the point where I'm not afraid of the panic attacks when I'm having them if I'm sure that it is indeed a panic attack and nothing else, but I hate how they make me feel with the physical symptoms. I'm so uncomfortable. And then I start to question if it's something else. I see my doctor tomorrow to get peace of mind about my heart (that's my fear of fears, a heart attack). I'm going to download the app you suggested. Thank you so much for that, and for the book suggestion! I'm going to look into that too! You're right about not giving in and letting the attacks win. I'm so glad you're dealing with them better. That is a huge stride for people like us!! This forum has been absolutely awesome, because it does help take away the enemy of isolation!

    Do you have someone you could run with that might help distract you from the panic feelings?

  • My husband is a runner and he could easily distract me but again, he truly doesn't understand because he's never had anxiety. I think I've come to accept that some days are good days and some days aren't and it can be for no reason at all, too. But knowing there are other people out there helps. I'm anti-medication so I truly try to adjust my diet and exercise and definitely meditation! Meditation is key for me. Settling down and turning my brain off is helpful because I truly have a mind that's always thinking.

  • Yep, "for no reason at all" is the struggle. And it is REAL! I hate medication too. I only take xanax in an emergency, and I was completely off of it for over a year. At that point, diet snd exercise were controlling it. I know what I need to do and the right answers for me, I just need to do them and get over this hurdle. My mom passed out at my house a couple of weeks ago and then broke her leg and had to have surgery, and I was SUPER stressed over both of those, so I wonder if that triggered my attacks. I was doing pretty well before then.

  • PS..I notice EVERY little thing in my body too (heart rate, breathing, pains) and that only worsens the anxiety because it makes me antsy and worried. Again, I try to breath deep and "accept." The acceptance part is the hardest.

  • Yep!! This is so me, and my family thinks I'm a hypochondriac. It hurts my feelings, but I have to remember that they don't understand because they don't go through it. I've called the ambulance twice because of these things and both times, I was fine. And then I felt better. You're right, acceptance is the hardest part.

  • I am a total hypochondriac! I have spent so much money on doctors and I am completely healthy. I take great care of myself but I feel doom when it comes to my health. My husband is so feed up with my panic disorder. I feel I really have no one to talk to except my therapist (whom I adore). The one thing that sends me over the edge is getting my yearly mammogram. I feel such dread and doom at that time each year. I also feel every little sensation in my body and completely overthink them all.

  • I am sitting at my doctor's office right now waiting for my appointment. I so totally get you about feeling the health doom. I'm get so terrified of every little flutter because I think it's the end of me. I also have a therapist that I love. I understand about the mammograms, and now they're prolonging the times between them! And I'm adopted so I don't know my medical history!!

  • My life story right there!

  • I experience the same type of panic attacks and they are terrifying. After one of these panic attacks I experience "anticipatory anxiety" for days! I see an amazing functional medicine doctor who has me on several supplements for my panic disorder. I have had great success with these supplements. The one that has helped the most is phos serine. My doctor also tested my ferritin (iron stores in the body) and it came back abnormally low which has contributed to these panic attacks. You can have normal iron levels but low ferritin. I would suggest asking to be tested. I also take GABA, 5HTP, Vit. D, Deplin, Curcumin, Neuromag, Omegagenics, and 3 different probiotics (3 times daily). There is a direct link to the gut/mind. Healthy gut = healthy brain. I have gone to the ER 2 times in the middle of the night because of a nocturnal panic attack. I wake up, I feel nauseous which makes me very nervous, then I will get a racing heart and lastly my body will begin to shake uncontrollably. It is terrifying and it can last for hours!

  • Yes!!! That sounds SO much like mine!! I get a rushing feeling rather than nausea, but any time I feel nauseous I freak out, so I understand that completely! Tomorrow doctor day for me, so I will definitely ask about the ferritin test and the supplements you mentioned! I just saw my counselor too and she said for me to try hydroxizine at night for sleep. ??? I'm going to have to look into this first. Thank you for all your suggestions! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has sought emergency help for these. That's so terrible, and they do last so long!! And I know just what you mean about anticipatory anxiety. I have had that every single night for the last week. I'm glad you're doing so well with the supplements! That's awesome! I'm gonna check them out!! :)

  • You might want to mention 5HTP to your doctor as well. It is a great supplement that helps me with sleep. The doctor I see uses only the best supplements (ones that are not GMO, they do not have wheat, dairy, soy, gluten or casein nor do they contain harmful additives/preservatives. Keep me posted on your ferritin level. If it is low this could be the key to why the panic attacks are occurring. My panic attacks started completely out of the blue. When they first started I thought something was wrong with my heart because the palpitations I was experiencing were extreme. Low ferritin also causes heart palpatations....who knew! I would also suggest trying to find a functional medicine doctor in your area and have them do a complete work up. So often we do not need pharmaceutical drugs for a problem we just need to get to the root of what is causing the problem and fix it (not saying anything bad about anyone who needs to go that route though!) I have been terrified to try most pharmaceutical drugs as I am very sensitive to any medication. I have had great success with the supplements though. I am one who also completely freaks out when I feel nauseous. I am going on a cruise next month and am I so worried about getting sick/nauseous. I've been on a few cruises before and I experienced very rough seas last time which made me feel very nauseous. :-(

  • This forum is so refreshing. I appreciate your comments. The anticipatory anxiety is the worst. It keeps me from doing a lot of things (going places, avoiding large crowds, etc). Or, well, it tries to. I fight it most of the time. Will look into the ferritin level u described. My anxiety is always evolving. First it was the panic attacks at night. Then when I worked on those and they don't scare me too much anymore, it was anxiety during the day and a racing heart for no reason. Then when that didn't scare me too much anymore it turned into a "that feels like my heart is skipping a beat" crap. Like I said, I've seen doctors about this and I'm healthy. It's truly mind over matter. The brain is so powerful and can truly make you "sick" if you let it.

  • It really is mind over matter. Today my doctor gave me oeace of mind. She told me that all my stats have improved since my last visit, and that I could come back every 3 months for peace of mind visits. So it really is my brain making me feel the way I do. But at least now I'm hopeful that I can deal with them a little better now. We'll see how it goes! It's nice to know that this forum is here. It has been a real beacon of hope for me.

  • Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you for telling me about Insight Timer!! I absolutely love it!!!! :)

  • Yay! My absolute favorite one is "Breathing Into asleep" by Bethany Auriel-Hagan. I bookmarked that one and use it for sleep.

  • Omg!! That was the very first one I used and it was AWESOME!! My 7-year-old meditated with me to that one and he was out right away!! :) It's just wonderful! I found some for panic on there, but haven't used them yet. I meditated to "storm" today.

  • Glad you found this forum. I found it after having a nocturnal panic attack almost 2 weeks ago.

  • I have the same issue I keep thinking my eyes are falling out and I'mgoing to stop breathing I am scared daily and I dont sleep at night at all

  • Briaj445, I'm sorry you're feeling this way. I know how terrifying it is. This is a great place to find support and someone to chat to, day or night, which I have found enormously comforting. For those of us suffering from anxiety and panic, sometimes all we need at the moment is a listening, sympathetic ear. Sleep is so important, and I hope you can find your way through this. If you ever need to chat, please message.

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