Even though I no longer struggle with panic attacks, anxiety or agoraphobia, I do periodically experience night terrors. These are episodes at night where I’m totally asleep, and all of sudden wake up with a racing heart and panic thoughts (confusion, unreality, fear). It only lasts a brief second, but it’s still very similar to panic attacks, except now (since it happens when I’m asleep), I can’t consciously work my way through the episode. I wake up and it’s already full speed.
I have noticed that stress can trigger these. I felt like it was a combination of things–diet, exercise, stress and adrenaline. It feels a lot like excessive adrenaline build up, and then being released in the night. So, I have found that if I’ve had a rough day stress-wise, then I need to go exercise. For me, it’s a hour or running, biking and stair step machine. A good sweat and increased heart rate will really burn off that excessive adrenaline. And, I need to avoid all caffeine after lunchtime.
If I watch these things, and listen to my body, then I can avoid the night terrors.
Another trigger may be something totally different (or somewhat related). I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day, and he was telling me about his recent diagnosis–sleep apnea. This friend never really slept much and when he did, it was shallow and often interrupted. After going to a sleep center, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea. He was never hitting that deep (level 4, level 5) REM sleep. Now he knows why he never dreamed. He could count on one hand the number of times he has dreamed for his whole life.
But, that’s not what caught my attention. He described the sleep apnea situation. Your body is asleep, and it stops breathing, for like up to 10 seconds. And then, your body responds with a small “fight or flight” response to get it breathing again. The result is rapid heart rate and fast breathing.
That’s very similar to a night terror. I awake with a rapid heart rate and shallow breathing. Again, the experience is real and typically related to my stress levels for the day, but sleep apnea is related to stress and diet, as well.
So, maybe there’s a correlation. Interesting, nonetheless.