Waking up in the middle of the night feeling a sense of doom and overwhelming panic is not only terrifying but confusing. Nocturnal panic attacks, a less commonly discussed form of panic attacks, can interrupt your peaceful night’s sleep and leave you feeling exhausted and fearful of the next occurrence. Understanding what causes these nocturnal disturbances, recognizing the signs and learning how to prevent them is essential for getting back to restful nights and well-rested days.

What Are Nocturnal Panic Attacks?

Nocturnal panic attacks are episodes of intense fear that occur unexpectedly during sleep. They can awaken a person from any sleep stage, causing physiological and psychological distress. Unlike nightmares, which can also disturb sleep, nocturnal panic attacks leave individuals fully awake and in a state of panic, often without a clear cause or trigger.

Can You Have a Panic Attack in Your Sleep?

Absolutely. While it may seem like the body should be at rest and the mind at ease during sleep, panic attacks can indeed strike at night. This can be particularly unsettling because the lack of an obvious trigger can make the experience feel even more random and out of control.

What Causes Nocturnal Panic Attacks?

While the exact cause of nocturnal panic attacks isn’t fully understood, there are several factors that may contribute to their occurrence:

Genetic Predisposition

A family history of anxiety disorders or panic attacks can increase the likelihood of experiencing nocturnal panic attacks.

Stress and Anxiety

Day-to-day stress and anxiety can accumulate and manifest as panic attacks during sleep when the mind and body attempt to process and decompress from the day’s events.

Sleep Disorders

Conditions such as sleep apnea, which cause disruptions in breathing, can lead to awakenings that trigger panic attacks.

Substance Use

Alcohol, caffeine and certain medications can affect sleep patterns and may increase the risk of nocturnal panic attacks.

Nocturnal Panic Attack Symptoms

Recognizing the signs of a panic attack during sleep is key to understanding and managing the condition. Here are some common nocturnal panic attack symptoms:

Physical Symptoms

  • Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness, or faintness
  • Chills or hot flashes

Psychological Symptoms

  • A sense of impending doom or death
  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality
  • Fear of losing control or going “crazy”


  • Confusion or disorientation upon waking
  • Difficulty falling back asleep
  • Fear of going to sleep
  • Daytime fatigue and mood changes due to disrupted sleep

How to Stop Nocturnal Panic Attacks

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, there are several strategies that can help reduce the frequency and severity of nocturnal panic attacks:

Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Creating a calming pre-sleep ritual can signal to your body that it’s time to unwind and may help prevent panic attacks during sleep. This can include activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques.

Prioritize Sleep Hygiene

Optimizing your sleep environment and habits can lead to better quality sleep and potentially fewer panic attacks. This includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule, ensuring your bedroom is comfortable and free from disruptions and avoiding stimulants close to bedtime.

Manage Stress and Anxiety

Since stress and anxiety are significant contributors to nocturnal panic attacks, finding effective ways to manage these feelings is crucial. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and regular exercise can make a positive impact.

Seek Professional Help

If nocturnal panic attacks persist, consulting with a mental health professional or sleep specialist can provide personalized advice and treatment options. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), has been shown to be effective in treating panic disorders, including nocturnal panic attacks.

Consider Medication

In some cases, medication may be recommended to help manage symptoms. It’s important to discuss this with a healthcare provider, as medications can have side effects and may not be suitable for everyone.

Prevention of Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Preventing nocturnal panic attacks involves a multifaceted approach, including lifestyle adjustments and possibly professional treatment. Here are some prevention tips:

Regular Exercise

Physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety levels, which in turn may reduce the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack during sleep.

Balanced Diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can support overall well-being and may help regulate mood and stress levels.

Limiting Alcohol and Caffeine

Both alcohol and caffeine can affect sleep quality and may increase the risk of panic attacks. Limiting intake of these substances, especially in the hours before bedtime, can be helpful.

Stress Management Techniques

Developing a toolkit of stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation, can be beneficial in preventing nocturnal panic attacks.

Adequate Sleep

Ensuring you get enough sleep on a regular basis can help keep your body and mind in balance, reducing the potential for panic attacks.

Canyon Creek Is Here To Help

Nocturnal panic attacks can be a distressing experience, but with awareness and proactive management, it is possible to reduce their occurrence and impact on your life. With the right support and treatment, you can regain control and put an end to these nighttime interruptions.

Canyon Creek Behavioral Health, of Temple, Texas, is here to help. We provide inpatient and outpatient treatment to adolescents and adults that meet you no matter where you are in your mental health journey. 

Give us a call at 254-410-1819 or complete this form to get started on your mental health journey today.

Canyon Creek Behavioral Health

Canyon Creek Behavioral Health is a facility that services the behavioral health needs of adults, adolescents and older adults. We provide inpatient and outpatient treatment, where we serve people from all backgrounds. Our team of highly qualified and skilled therapists are prepared to meet your individual needs. This includes treating those facing mental health issues and mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression.

Here at Canyon Creek we believe it’s possible to live a life of stability and purpose. Some of our services include our adult inpatient program, adolescent inpatient services and more. Located in Temple, Texas, we’re committed to being an active member of the Temple community and improving its understanding of mental health.

To schedule a no-cost, confidential assessment, please give us a call at 254-410-1819 or fill out the form on our contact page here.