Panic Attacks

Panic attacks and their effect on sleep

For the past 2 years, Mark, a 25 years old engineer, has been suffering from episodes of panic and fear that struck him all of a sudden and of no clear reason. Each episode lasts few minutes. He gets short of breath, dizzy and his chest feels tight. He went to emergency department twice because he thought he was having a heart attack but it turned out he was having panic attacks. He also suffers from insomnia, fatigue and urefreshed sleep when he wakes up in the morning.

He was referred to a therapist who worked with him on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) where his believes about his fears are challenged. He was prescribed an SSRI (medication to reduce anxiety) and was asked to refrain from caffeine. Over the following few months, his panic attacks were markedly reduced and his sleep got better but still not optimal yet. The therapist worked with him on improving his sleep habits: keep a routine bed/wake times, exercise routinely, avoid alcohol and caffeine, turn the TV off one hour before bedtime and instead listen to relaxing music and read. When his insomnia recurs (once or twice a week), he takes a sleeping pills. The rest of the time, he tries to sleep on his own.

Panic disorder occurs in young people. It is a quick and rapid rise of severe anxiety. Needless to say, it is very unpleasant and comes with physical symptoms of chest pain, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. There is a sense of impending doom. The panic attack may occur in response to situations or places such as shopping malls or public speaking. Other times, it just happens for no reason.

Management of insomnia in individuals with panic disorder and sleep problems

  • If you feel you suffer from panic attacks that is affecting your life and sleep, talk to your doctor. You might need to be on medications that help you cope and ameliorate the anxiety and panic while you get therapy such as counseling or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol. They can make your anxiety and insomnia worse.
  • Exercise is a wonderful way to reduce the anxiety and tension and improve the sleep quality. Not to mention, it can help with weight control.
  • Yoga is another helpful way to reduce mental and physical tension.
  • Learn to meditate in your own spiritual way.
  • Take a warm bath or shower in the evening to help ease the muscle tension.
  • Read books about techniques recommended by other people to reduce tension, stress and anxiety. It is cheaper than seeing a therapist. However, consider seeing one if the above options are not helpful.