What do They Feel Like?
Just like the panic attacks that occur while awake, those that occur while asleep can take different forms.
One type of attack that might occur during sleep is that the individual wakes up with the feeling that a panic attack is about to happen. This can include all the typical symptoms of a waking attack, with the added confusion and disorientation of having just woken up suddenly. This type of attack can cause a significant feeling of disconnection from reality due to the rapid cycling from sleeping to waking, combined with the disconnection of a panic attack.
In another type of attack, the person having the attack doesn’t wake up immediately, but instead remains asleep while part or all of the panic attack is occurring. Sometimes the person might have a panic attack similar to the one they might have while awake. In other cases symptoms that are entirely different from the normal waking symptoms might be experienced. These can include intense pain in the head or other parts of the body, intense feelings of pressure in the ears or lungs, teeth grinding, or other sensations.
Someone who has this type of attack while sleeping might also be aware of being asleep. This is referred to as a lucid episode. When this happens the person might struggle to wake up, to try and end the attack, but be unable to do so.
One or more episodes can cause significant distress and confusion, especially when the person doesn’t identify the episodes as sleep panic attacks. These feelings can easily lead to a fear of sleep or going to bed, which might turn into insomnia. Alternatively, someone might try to develop coping strategies such as sleeping at different times of the day, or sleeping in different locations.
Ultimately, however, someone who experiences repeated episodes of panic attacks at night will require some form of treatment to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks.