In this guide, we will discuss Waking up with an anxiety attack, waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night, some tips to consider, and what you could do after an attack to get yourself to go back to sleep.
Waking up with anxiety attack
If you have found yourself waking up with an anxiety attack or especially waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night then you may be experiencing a nightmare that caused a lot of distress or a nocturnal panic attack.
The symptoms you may get to experience are very similar to those of a panic attack which includes:
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate (feeling like having a heart attack)
- Shaking or trembling
- Feeling dizzy
- Chest pain or discomfort
If ‘waking up with an anxiety attack’ in the middle of the night, you may be suffering from something called nocturnal panic attacks, but know that anxiety attacks and panic attacks differ in nature.
According to Dave Carbonell, Ph.D. “A nocturnal panic attack is a panic attack which occurs in the midst of your sleep, waking you up for no apparent reason”, which is more likely to be experienced by people with panic disorder.
However, this can make you feel disoriented upon waking or extremely frightened not knowing what is really going on.
This happens to many people with an anxiety disorder where they go to sleep and wake up feeling anxious and with stress.
They could think ‘I hate waking up to this’ and even suffer from insomnia or fearing falling asleep, feeling they might get the same result the next morning.
Even though it is not ideal, try not to be discouraged by it since it is something quite common and with ways to minimize it.
Here we will mention what could potentially cause them and some tips to consider when attempting to reduce waking up with anxiety.
What causes anxiety attacks or nocturnal panic attacks?
According to Craig N. Sawchuck, Ph.D., and L.P from Mayoclinic.org, “Nocturnal panic attacks usually last only a few minutes, but it may take a while to calm down and go back to sleep after you have one.
People who have nocturnal panic attacks also tend to have panic attacks during the day.
Moreover, “It’s not known what causes panic attacks.
Underlying factors may include genetics, stress, and certain changes in the way parts of your brain work. In some cases, an underlying condition, such as a sleep disorder or thyroid problem, can cause panic-like signs and symptoms.
Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and whether you need any tests for a possible underlying condition.”
Check your sleeping habits
When we don’t get a proper good night’s sleep we tend to feel irritable, anxious, and even unable to concentrate the next morning so having this happen repeatedly can actually affect your mental and physical overall health.
According to Sheryl Ankrom from Verywellmind.com, here are some healthy sleep habits to consider:
- Avoid stimulating activities two to three hours before bedtime (for example, watching TV, working on your computer, exercising vigorously, and drinking caffeine).
- Engage in a relaxing activity before bedtime like curling up with a good book or getting a back rub from your partner.
- Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Keep your bedroom cold (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit) and dark (invest in room-darkening shades or curtains).
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
Identify your triggers or stressors
We may not be fully aware that there are triggers or stressors we come in contact with every day, even the most subtle ones.
In the morning, cortisol levels are at their highest which may contribute to worsening our anxiety if we are under a lot of stress as soon as we open our eyes.
For instance, think about how your alarm could be considered a stressor or an anxiety-provoking situation.
Have you ever woken up to your alarm with your heart racing and feeling this rush of adrenaline coursing through your body?
If you are familiar with the feeling then try to change the way you use to get up in the morning, for instance, change the tone of the alarm for a more relaxing tone or even some soothing music might help.
Moreover, if you are thinking you need to get up and do this and that, stressing yourself before even getting out of bed won’t do you any good.
Yes, it is useful to plan your day but sometimes we get flooded with all these disorganized thoughts without really making sense of them.
Meditation and relaxation techniques
What if you could start your day with a clear mind, seizing the day and living it as it comes instead of worrying about what might happen in the future? Wouldn’t that be ideal?
Well, let us tell you it is possible. There are plenty of guided meditation exercises out there you can use, just find the one that suits you or makes you feel more relaxed.
In addition, consider accompanying your meditation with deep breathing and even journaling.
This could be a worry diary where you can put all your thoughts and take them out of your head but also helps when you write at least 3 things you feel the most grateful that morning.
It is hard to think positively when we have a million thoughts in our head and thinking about how things can go wrong, but this is quite exhausting isn’t it?
What if instead, you took the time to identify the thoughts that tend to stick with you throughout the day or the most worrying thoughts and challenge them or develop your own positive counter-statements.
For example, if you think the first thing in the morning ‘What if I forget everything about the presentation and they start laughing?’.
This is indeed something that hasn’t happened yet but it ‘could’ in the future.
However, you could counteract it with something like ‘I have studied during the past week this means I will not forget what to say and no one will laugh at me’.
Have a healthy diet
When we think about a healthy diet, many pictures come to mind, especially a lot of vegetables or fruits, or someone telling us we should throw away practically everything in our fridge.
This is not what we intend by a healthy diet, but you need to be aware that there are some things you may be eating that can easily trigger your anxiety.
Moreover, try incorporating omega-3 fats that can be found in fatty fish, fruits you like, and vegetables.
Also, try to avoid foods that may make your glucose spike and dips since it may contribute to your anxiety symptoms.
Also, it is widely known and accepted that caffeine is one of the substances that can trigger anxiety or worsen the symptoms.
If you are used to taking a cup of coffee every morning, try to eliminate it or cut it back examining how you start to feel and you may notice how symptoms improve.
What should I do after waking up with an anxiety attack?
If you are fortunate enough to go back to sleep after waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night or a nocturnal panic attack then there is nothing else you really need to do.
However, chances are you won’t immediately go to sleep after experiencing this situation so avoid lying there, wondering if there will be another attack coming soon.
On the contrary, try to get out of bed and wake yourself by splashing some water on your face or walk to the kitchen and have some water.
You could also walk around the house or your apartment once and then go back to your room but avoid instinctively powering on the TV or checking at your phone.
Instead, try reading your favorite magazine, book, or something that can distract you in an attempt to fall right back asleep.
However, if after a few minutes you are still fully awake try to do some easy but distracting chore like doing a quick wipe of bathroom sinks, counters, and faucets or if you have washed your dishes, try to put things back in their place.
In contrast, if you are still unable to sleep and you keep having problems throughout the week, we recommend seeking professional advice from a mental health professional.
Why is this blog about Waking up with anxiety attack important?
Waking up with anxiety attacks is nor pleasant or ideal but it is something that could happen and for some, most common than you might think.
As we have discussed, there are some things we could do such as checking our sleeping habits, implementing positive thinking, identifying those stressors, or triggers that may be causing our anxiety to get worse or even reviewing our current diet.
However, remember how you may be energized after the episode(which is normal) and what you could do to try to go back to sleep as soon as possible but if you have tried everything already and nothing seems to work, then we recommend going to seek professional advice to get a better diagnosis and understanding of what is happening.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Waking up with anxiety attack
In this section, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night.
What does it mean when you wake up with anxiety?
When you wake up with anxiety means you may be waking up with feelings of stress and worry.
If the anxiety is too overwhelming or excessive, there is a higher probability you may have generalized anxiety.
It is recommended to see a mental health professional for an evaluation.
How can I stop waking up with anxiety?
If you would like to stop waking up with anxiety, try getting more sleep brushing up on your sleep hygiene, establish an enjoyable morning routine and try not to set up more then 1 alarm where you have the opportunity to use the snooze button.
In addition, you could try mindfulness, use positive affirmations, keep a journal to write all of your thoughts, exercise regularly, or even practice yoga.
What causes anxiety attacks at night?
There are various reasons why you have anxiety attacks at night and some of those reasons include daily stressors, health conditions, poor sleep habits, increasing your chance of suffering from anxiety attacks or panic attacks at night.
If you find yourself constantly waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night then you may want to consult with your doctor or psychologist.
Maybe the reasons you are waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night is because you have had a change in your life which is affecting your wellbeing.
This could be a new job or maybe you moved houses.
A psychologist will be able to help you find out why you are waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night by evaluating you through a very informal chat.
What are the symptoms of nocturnal panic attacks?
Symptoms of nocturnal panic attacks include:
– Shortness of breath
– Racing heart
– Feeling faint
– Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
– Feeling restless
Can drinking more water help anxiety?
Drinking more water can help reduce anxiety but it won’t be a definitive solution.
Some experts recommend drinking more water due to its soothing and calming properties, where your body can actually benefit from keeping it hydrated but it shouldn’t be considered as the only solution to treat anxiety.
Ankrom, S. (2020, Mar.) How to Minimize Morning Anxiety. Retrieved from verywellmind.com.
Carbonell, D. (n.d.) Nocturnal Panic Attacks. Retrieved from anxietycoach.com.
Sawchuk, C.N. (n.d.) Nocturnal panic attacks: What causes them?. Retrieved from Mayoclinic.org.