Night panic anxiety – What’s that?


Suffering from night anxiety?

Have you ever had a daytime anxiety or panic attack? If yes, then you already know how distressing the condition can be. Unfortunately, even people who haven’t ever experienced daytime panic attacks and do not have panic disorder can undergo the ordeal of a night panic anxiety or nocturnal panic attack. Night panic anxiety, as the name suggests – occurs at night while a person is asleep, and strikes without warning. It leaves the sufferer totally confused, disoriented and frightened and awake for no apparent reason.

Night panic anxiety can be very distressing because the person might not really know just what went wrong. Panic attacks by their very nature are not dependent on something to go wrong physically; even an imaginary disaster can trigger an attack. Attacks can occur just once or twice or in some cases, they may occur on a regular, nightly basis.

The symptoms of night panic anxiety may vary. Symptoms usually include emotional and physical sensations similar to the waking anxiety attacks such as feeling terribly frightened or upset, sweating heavily, racing heart, sweaty palms, feeling cold, shivering, low blood pressure, numbness and feeling like everything is going wrong all at once.

However, night panic anxiety can also cause confusion, momentary disconnection from reality, disturbed sleep patterns, feeling lost, helpless and disoriented. For some people, the symptoms might be similar to anxiety attacks they experience during the day. For instance, many people have reported that they are awakened by a feeling of looming threat and knowing that they are about to experience a panic attack. However, the symptoms may also be drastically different, and you might not be able to guess that you’re having an episode and be unable to recognise or diagnose the problem.

However, while the exact causes of night anxiety have not yet been determined, there are some suspected causes under investigation such as a sharp increase or decrease in carbon dioxide levels either within the person (breathing-related difficulties) or for example in a sleeping environment the use of an electric heater or blower that emit carbon dioxide or use up environmental oxygen, can cause sudden sleep cycle changes

Night Panic anxiety can be very disruptive in your daily life as it can cause serious sleep disruption and deprivation. Anxiety feeds on feelings of uncertainty. To reduce the effects of a night panic attack having a prepared action plan to minimize your feelings of vulnerability and helplessness is one strategy to consider.

Some helpful Anxiety tips:

  • Acceptance and observation of symptoms when they occur are known to reduce the feelings of being a victim of an anxiety attack.
  • Allow yourself time to relax by going for a calming walk or watching something funny on TV
  • Drink a glass of water, wash your face, check on your pet – just do something to change your mindset
  • Try anxiety breathing techniques
  • Avoid bad night habits such a ‘clock watching’ or if you’re unable to sleep it’s best to get up rather than staying in bed, as the bedroom is not the place for worrying, stressing or obsessing over matters you have no control over.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine – these only make the problem worse

When you accept you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms, and you are able to calm yourself down, normally the panic will reduce. Consult an anxiety psychologist if episodes occur again. The sooner you seek help from a professional anxiety psychologist Melbourne, the faster you will be able to take control over your life again.

Our Melbourne CBD psychologists will identify the core underlying anxiety disorders that could be influencing or impacting on your everyday activities. By partnering with Counselling Melbourne, we can instruct you on the various approaches, strategies and treatments needed to overcome your anxiety to rediscover the real you. Call us 1300 967 734

Reviewed by Greg Redmond, Director Counselling In Melbourne, December 2017

Our blog is for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help with an emotional or behavioural problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health care professional


About the editor, Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

I am a Registered Psychologist with AHPRA’s Psychology Board of Australia and a Chartered Counselling Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, UK. My formal training began with a B.A. in Psychology and Welfare at Charles Sturt University, and B.A. (Hons) Psychology from the University of Wollongong. I then progressed to the M.A. (Hons) Clinical Psychology at the same university before moving to the UK to undertake a PhD in Psychology from City, University of London.

Find out more about Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

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