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Panic Attacks and Insomnia

by Dr. Blumberg on December 14, 2010

Panic Attacks Keep Me up All Night

The sun is starting to set.  Your mind is already consumed with terrifying sleep thoughts. “I hope I get a good night sleep tonight.  What if that dreaded heart pounding and sweats strike again, just as my head hits the pillow. What if the panic attack symptoms escalate and interrupt my sleep again.  My body feels drained from lack of sleep. How much many more sleepless nights can my body take?”

Clock Watching as Bedtime Nears

You can’t stop yourself from watching the clock as it nears bedtime.  You fear another night, punctuated with blasts of anxiety symptoms.  You wonder “When will I have a restful sleep again? Will I ever get rid of these awful panic attacks that keep me up all night?  Will they ever go away?”

You Are In a Losing Battle

It is 2:00 a.m. and you are tossing and turning, battling with the spells of shakiness and shortness of breath. Just as you think you are nodding off to sleep, another wave of heat spells awaken you. You are desperately fighting for that one peaceful night of sleep.  You are in a losing battle.  The more you frighten yourself with the terrifying thought of another night interrupted with panic attack symptoms, the more the heart pounding and shortness of breath keep you awake.

You Are Fooling Your Brain.  The Brain Believes There are Tigers in Your Bed

You have tricked your brain into believing there is an imminent danger lurking. When you think, “I must sleep tonight.  I can’t take another sleepless night!” You are making an emergency out of Sleeplessness.    The brain believes you are facing a real life threatening emergency at 2:00 a.m.  Perception of an emergency even when it is a false alarm is a real emergency to the brain. For example, you hear a rustling noise in your house. You make a judgment that there is a burglar inside your home.  Your heart beats wildly. You check the house and discover it is only the wind.  When you thought the rustling noise caused by the wind was an actual burglar entering your home, you sent an alarm message to the brain.  You activated the fight or fight response.  If there was a burglar in your house at 2:00 a.m., would you sleep comfortably? No! The fear of another night of panic attacks keeping you up all night is no different to the brain than the perception of that there is a burglar in your home.

The sound of the ticking clock, signaling ever second of lost sleep and another night of wakefulness and exhaustion is like a tiger in your bed.  The face of the clock dial reading 2:06 a.m. is like a burglar with a gun to your head.  Why? Because you are making an emergency out of being awake with panic attacks.

You Must Shut Down the False Emergency Alarm Message to the Brain

The brain will naturally let you doze off to sleep as it receives the message that you are safe and secure. You must follow the paradoxical rule.  The more you desperately try to avoid the panic attack symptoms at bed time and dread they will disrupt your sleep, the more you set off the panic attack symptoms and more you lie awake in fear. You must train yourself to develop a new orientation of welcoming the harmless symptoms of adrenaline to visit you at bed time.  It must become unimportant to you when you will fall asleep. You must develop a peacefully awake state, and remove all urgency to get to sleep. Only then, will sleep, naturally, overtake you.

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