It’s no secret many of us lose sleep due to stress & anxiety. When our parents checked for monsters under our beds, I wonder if they were thinking to themselves “silly kid, they’re inside your head.”
I’ve overcome night time anxiety and nocturnal panic attacks. I started having nocturnal panic attacks after I graduated college- likely due to the stressors of adjusting to adulthood and living on my own for the first time.
I would wake up drenched in sweat, heart racing, body shaking at least once a week, usually more. Surrounded by darkness, I would stumble out of my room and panic while trying to find my lorazepam – the ONLY thing that gave me relief during that time. Many times after those episodes, I would stay awake til the early hours of the morning watching Netflix…playing games on my phone… anything to distract my brain from the pending doom of having to go to work the next day on 3 hours of sleep.
When I wasn’t experiencing middle of the night panic, I was experiencing falling asleep anxiety. My mind would race a million miles a minute. Thoughts would float in and stick to the back of my eyelids. Each time I closed my eyes, all I could see was a thousand different worries. I would look at my partner, sleeping soundly, beside me and this only made me feel alone ( and slightly jealous that I wasn’t sleeping!)
This isn’t to say that I NEVER experience anxiety at night anymore. But it doesn’t consume me every night and leave me restless and in zombie-like states each day anymore.
Here are the strategies and lifestyle changes I’ve made to aid in healthy sleep and reduced nighttime anxiety & panic:
- 10-10-10 Breathing: Simply inhale slowly for 10 seconds, hold for 10 seconds and exhale slowly for 10 seconds. I usually do 2 rounds whenever I need to feel grounded. Puts me right into a state of relaxation.
- Weight: Weighted blankets are a huge trend right now…for good reason- they work! If a weighted blanket isn’t in your budget, pile a bunch of blankets on top of each other. Better yet- invite a pet to lay on you (if they’re willing!)
- Go to bed before everyone: This one’s kind of weird- but trust me… I used to stay up later than my S/O’s in the past and would end up awake well into the early hours of the morning with racing thoughts. The idea of staying up after everyone else is asleep and binging Netflix sounds nice in theory. But, I find if I go to sleep while there’s still people awake I am comforted knowing that there’s still noise and bustle outside of my bedroom.
- Magnesium: I find taking Magnesium pills right before bed extremely helpful. They help me stay asleep. Consult your doctor before taking them.
- Stick to a sleep schedule: This is a big one for me. This is the primary change in lifestyle that has helped me stop having night-time panic attacks. I go to sleep every night around 9:30 (before my wife), and wake up every day between 5:30-6:00 a.m. My body now knows when to sleep and how to sleep through the night.
- Avoid Naps: Anyone who knows me, knows I love naps…like if I’m on vacation or have a day off that’s what I want to do. They feel so luxurious to me. BUT, they are deadly to my sleep health. So I’ve cut them out.
- Stay Busy During The Day: A busy day helps me sleep at night. Even if I have the day off, I try to clean, go out or do things that help exhaust me so I don’t end up just laying in bed unable to sleep. That’s when the thoughts creep in.
On nights I still wake up in panic mode
Though I rarely experience nocturnal panic anymore, in the event that I do, I try to use these strategies to get through them and not let it turn into a cycle.
- GET UP. Don’t lay in bed panicking- go to another room and do something that comforts you. For me, it’s watching re-runs of old TV shows and playing dumb games on my phone until the panic passes.
- DRINK ICE WATER or Put an ice pack on the back of your neck. Trust me, it helps shock your body to a different state. In winter I’ll even step outside.
- TAKE SOMETHING IF YOU NEED IT. If you have a prescription for Ativan or any sort or similar drug and feel comfortable taking one, then do so. There are also natural alternatives such as GABA-T SAP that I take and find extremely helpful. Again, consult your doctor before taking anything new.
- CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS: Try not to catastrophize your panic. Breathe through it and try to remind yourself it’s temporary and this is simply your body/mind processing something. Allow yourself time to get through it and try not to be angry at your body for the panic.
I hope these techniques can help you get a good sleep and kick the panic.