Panic Attacks in Sleep

Updated on March 28, 2012
J.K. asks from Audubon, IA
5 answers

After talking with my doctor about my sleep problems - twitches, jolting awake, etc - he has suggested I do a sleep study just to rule out anything on that end, but also thinks it could be related to my anxiety.

He said it sounds like I'm having panic attacks in my sleep. It makes complete sense but I never thought of it before because I've only had panic attacks when awake! And I haven't had one in a year plus.

Has anyone else had panic attacks in their sleep? is there any way I can soothe myself and keep it from happening? It's so scary because I wake up scared and breathing fast and I feel like I stopped breathing... Not sure when my sleep study will be since they're sending a refferal but I look forward to seeing the results on that! But if it is just anxiety I'll look into adjusting my meds appropriately. It's unsettling to think my anxiety has gotten into my subconscious now...

Is this anything like a night terror? How do you calm down those?

As far as my jolting awake/movements being normal, they're defintely not. I have twitches about 10-20 times a night when I'm trying to sleep. Any time I get tired - at work, while watching tv - I space out a bit and then twitch. It's very uncontrolable movement in my legs and sometimes including my arms. I get pretty mad when it happens... It's extremely frustraiting to not have control of your body I also sometimes get more extreme twitches in my legs but only when I'm lying down. I didn't want to worry about it too much but my fiance is concerned about it especialyl because it's starting to make me more tired during the day - causing more day time twitching! The DR. has no invested interest in the clinic. He asked which one I wanted to go to, the one in our town, or the other two towns...

Specifically, when I wake up scared, breathing fast, and feeling like I stopped breathing in my sleep - he thinks this is a panic attack. My fiance usually has to calm me down after these. It's over in a few seconds but I'm scared out of my mind while it's happening. I don't even have a dream with it. I just wake up terrified.

He also wasnt too worried about the vaginal tearing :) said it should clear up on its own. Woohoo!

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So What Happened?

I am 20mg of Celexa dialy and take no sleep aides.

More Answers



answers from Cedar Rapids on

I've had anxiety/Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since I was a child, but was clinically diagnosed with it when I was 19 and went through 18 months of cognitive-behavioral therapy. I've always been riddled with nightmares and twitching - some more noticeable than others. It's not fun, it can be extremely embarrassing when my young students notice a twitch and ask why I'm blinking my eyes so much or why my hand is moving like that, and my husband has to be a saint for putting up with my moving around while trying to get to sleep, my nightmares, literally checking for monsters for his 32-year-old wife, etc. My children are still young, but I work VERY hard not to pass along my feelings of anxiety to them - not always easy to do!

All I can say is that you have to have a lot of information and a VERY good sense of humor! Do the study, see whomever you have to see for insurance purposes, but get yourself a diagnosis, therapy, and adjust meds as needed. Life can be very close to "normal" for ladies like us, just be thankful that yours are primarily during the night and that you have a supportive fiance.

Also, realize that at the heart of it, anxiety is a chemical imbalance. Your brain doesn't make enough serotonin (the feel-good stuff in chocolate) so when it disperses it to the body, it realizes it doesn't have enough anymore and "slurps" the stuff it just dispersed back up. It's a never-ending cycle of dispersing and slurping that always leaves you in need of serotonin. That's why anxiety meds are SSRI's - selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors - they add serotonin to your system and stop your brain from slurping it back up. I find it VERY comforting to think of my issues as a "simple" chemical imbalance rather than a big scary mental health issue.

Best of luck to you!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Jonesboro on

............ Don't know what to tell you on the vaginal tearing.... but I used to have panic attacks in my sleep as well- after some traumatic things happend usually was when they'd happen. My doctor suggested I try a few things that helped sooo much and I haven't had one in years. Every night, before you go to bed, spend at LEAST 10 minutes quiet time, laying down, picturing everything you could possibly be worried about. Then, with every new worry, ask yourself "Why does this worry me?" and with every new answer, still ask "Why does that worry me?" At the root of any problem, it comes down to wanting to protect yourself or a loved one. It's survival instinct. What I had to do was think of the worst possible scenario if whatever I was imagining actually DID happen... then plan out how I would deal with it. And by imagining the solution, it made the problem that much less scary- I felt like I was in control of IT, not the other way around. I hope that is helpful. Just take deep breaths, try to think calming thoughts throughout the day & just tell yourself "It's going to be ok. I am strong. I will get through this." You'll be ok. Have grace on yourself- don't berate yourself for not being perfect, wake up and smile and congratulate yourself every night you don't have a panic attack. Train your subconscious!!!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Are you, by chance, taking any sort of sleeping aids and or anxiety medication?

This was recently happening to someone I'm close with and it was due to a short-term anti-anxiety drug prescribed for sleeping!


answers from St. Louis on

Adults tend not to get sleep terrors.

I have "jolted awake" since I was a little kid. If by jolted awake you mean you are dreaming of a movement and continue the movement after awake. This is not what I would consider a panic attack in my sleep. I have panic attacks, they are not fun but nothing I would have in my sleep.

Everything you described seems pretty normal. I say this because I question your doctor's opinion. I think perhaps you need to see a second opinion. This doctor doesn't have a vested interest in the clinic that does the sleep studies does he? He is required by law to disclose that.



answers from Oklahoma City on

Okay. I went to my psychiatrist to ask her why I would be having panic attacks in my sleep. She said there is no such thing. The body does not work like that.

Her hubby is a top rated neurologist so she referred me to him, he did my sleep study and said it was very mild sleep apnea.

The twitching could be restless leg syndrome. My mom had that and she would be watching TV and her legs would be just moving away...I don't think you are having panic attacks, I think it is a form of sleep apnea. Try reclining instead of laying flat. I put a couch pillow on my bed and it raises me up several inches. That keeps my airway open more. Then I always make sure to not eat foods that can cause stomach acid to be in my throat. Like GERD. That is one reason I wake up not breathing often. I am gasping for breath. Then the acid has made my throat raw. The other times I wake up gasping for breath is just the sleep apnea where the airway gets compressed a bit.

Also think about just raising the head of the bed a few inches. We have 4X4 blocks under the top posts. The wheels pop out and then the frame just rests on the top of some pieces of 4X4 wood. It helps better than you think.

One other thing you mentioned is soothing yourself while sleeping. You can get a stereo that you keep in the bedroom. I would put it on a radio station and turn it down so low I could not make out the words or the tunes and then as I drifted off to sleep my brain was focused on the radio trying to figure out the music and I could sleep all night. I sleep with a TV on now, it is on 30-40 during the day and at night it is on 10-12. No one can even hear it enough to make out the story line.

I think you are going to be fine. I might consider the leg issue to be a side effect of the meds, that is often one of the symptoms, then make sure about the GERD, and then the sleeping with the head of the bed raised of just your head by adding pillows. It really helps. I hate waking up so scared. It is terrifying but I know it is my body needing air. I try to never be alone at night or I fight sleep like crazy.

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