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kwoahh's avatar

Is it possible to have a panic attack while sleeping?

Asked by kwoahh (68 points ) December 2nd, 2012 from iPhone

I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and have been getting horrible, terrifying dreams every night for the past couple of months. I wake up with the covers twisted and messy, my clothes twisted and scrunched and my friends say that at sleepovers I thrash and toss and turn all night. Because if this I wake up exhausted every morning. My dreams area mainly of disturbing images, running away from things, and people dying.

I rarely have panic attacks (when I’m awake) but I just have a constant anxious nervous feeling, and my friend thinks I’m getting the panic attacks when i sleep. What do you think?

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11 Answers

Judi's avatar

Are you on any medications for your depression and anxiety? They could be causing the dreams.

JLeslie's avatar

You can.

Night terrors and difficulty sleeping can also be caused by trouble breathing during sleep, even when there is not an anxiety problem.

Medications can cause disturbed sleep to happen too.

Is there something in particular in your life you are dealing with that leaves you feeling out of control or worried? Do you have chronic pain?

kwoahh's avatar

I take the prescription paxil, but I just started it a week ago an like I said I’ve had these dreams for a while. I am under a lot of emotional stress right now and I am dealing with a lot of family problems. With difficulty breathing, I have a breathing disorder called vocal cord disfunction that prevents me from taking deep breaths. Does that have anything to do with it? Is there anything I can do to get rid of the dreams?

JLeslie's avatar

Is the Paxil being prescribed by your internist or a psychiatrist? Are you seeng a therapist?

I get bad reoccuring nightmares when I am dealing with medical problems. If they don’t let up after several weeks I go to a therapist, and talking it through usually helps get rid of them.

You can also do a sleep study where they monitor you while you sleep. They will know when you are dreaming, how well you are breathing, your heart rate, blood pressure, etc. They would see if you are having episodes where you show signs of panic or distress. While you are there if you have apnea that they believe can be helped by an air machine they will try it for you and watch you sleep through another cycle to see if it helps. If you are exhausted in the morning it can indicate depression or failing to cycle through all stages of sleep, or possibly something else.

Some antidepressants can cause anxiety. Prozac is known to do that, especially when first starting it, I don’t know about Paxil. But, as you said this was going on before that. Troubled sleep is very common for people going through stressful times.

nebule's avatar

Yes I believe it is possible. I have a lot of problems with sleep (although these are waning at the moment, thank goodness!) and I am a very vivid dreamer. One of the things that does help is not to dwell on it too much and try to fill your waking life with comfort. I agree with what others have said – that medication can be a cause of night terrors, but if it’s new it could settle down once your body gets used to the medication.

I’ve recently really cut down on my alcohol intake as well which, even though I didn’t want to admit it…was causing major sleep problems. I used the excuse that it actually ‘helped’ me get to sleep, but it causes more harm that good whilst you are trying to sleep. I’ve also started CBT which has helped in my waking life by bringing more positive and constructive thoughts into my head and subconscious…that might be something to look into as it will filter through to your sleep patterns as well. Trying to figure out what your anxieties are in your waking life and making plans to deal with them will alleviate unconscious nightmare dreaming I imagine xxx But I’d look into the meds first xx

Just finally, I didn’t realise how terrible sleep deprivation can be and how it can affect everything in your life and often exacerbates problems, until I actually started to sleep better. Don’t underestimate how important sleep is…I did for a long time. But very important not to beat yourself up about it or get even more tense… you could try meditation before you go to sleep – that helps me a lot too and mindfulness meditation which doesn’t require you to breathe deeply xxx

emersonkelly's avatar

Panic attack while sleeping is possible. It may be due to the stress during the day and may be due to the anxious feelings in their daily life. This attack is only just a symptom of anxiety!!

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@kwoahh
Talk with Doctor about obstructive sleep apnea. You maybe reacting, in your sleep, to lowered Oxygen levels. With an existing airway issue it may mean during sleep your breathing is restricted.

I am not a Doctor.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

When you say “a panic attack while sleeping,” you might be giving us an innovative definition of a nightmare. Isn’t that exactly what a nightmare is—an overwhelming sense of fear, dread, or anxiety? The only difference is that panic attacks happen when people are awake, and nightmares occur while they’re asleep.

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JLeslie's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I think what the OP means, or the person who suggested it, that a panick attack might be triggering his nightmares (which is possible since they observe nightmares and night terrors in people who stop breathing at night). I guess there is a chance it could be theother way around also. But, I don’t think he is using nightmare and panic attack synonomously.

kwoahh's avatar

Thank you all for your input. I’m going to talk to my doctor about all of this.

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