Summer Travel Tip: Managing Nocturnal Panic Attacks and Insomnia

Summer trips can be a fun way to see other parts of the country and create lasting memories. However, for those who suffer from anxiety disorder, being away from home and familiar routines can cause a worsening of symptoms that lead to other issues. In particular, heightened anxiety can lead to nocturnal panic attacks and insomnia. Thankfully, these issues can be addressed and increase the odds of getting the restful night’s sleep you need.

Nighttime Panic: More Common than You Might Think

People tend to think of panic attacks as episodes that occur exclusively during the day. However, nocturnal panic attacks are not uncommon. When they strike, it can be especially disorienting as you are half asleep and trying to understand what’s going on. They may result in you feeling especially vulnerable in darkness and because your family is sleeping and not available to comfort and reassure you.

Needless to say, a nighttime panic attack disturbs your sleep.This can be true both as the attack is underway and on subsequent nights if you get into bed fearing another attack may occur. This can result in recurring insomnia.

How to Manage a Nocturnal Panic Attack

Ideally, you should minimize the chances of a nocturnal panic attack while traveling by addressing your daytime anxiety. This may include things like having a detailed daily agenda, planning plenty of downtime between events, taking some of the comforts of home with you such as favorite snacks, etc. However, if you nevertheless experience a nighttime panic attack, there are things you can do to minimize the impact it has on you and on your chances of developing ongoing insomnia.

  • Wait a few minutes to see if you are able to fall back asleep relatively quickly. However, don’t wait too long, as frustration will only make matters worse.
  • If a rapid return to sleep is not an option, get out of bed and fully wake yourself.
  • Some people benefit from distraction techniques like reading a book or watching TV until they become sleepy.
  • For others, the best approach is to address the attack directly by accepting and observing it. In that case, it can be helpful to describe the attack and thoughts associated with it in a journal entry.
  • Use relaxation technique like meditation to create a calm state.
  • Don’t return to bed until you feel ready to sleep.

After a Nocturnal Panic Attack

If you experience a nighttime panic attack, you may feel compelled to take action the next day to ensure it doesn’t happen again, such as wearing yourself out through exercise or consuming alcohol or medication close to bedtime. However, keeping these plans at the forefront of your mind can raise your anxiety level and actually increase your chances of another attack. To whatever degree you can, it’s better to adopt a wait-and-see attitude and repeatedly remind yourself that if another attack occurs, the worst thing that happens is you lose some sleep — and that will actually make it easier to sleep the following night. The key is to resist the natural inclination to fear another nocturnal attack and to avoid putting too much effort into preventing it.

If you have questions about anxiety, nocturnal panic attacks, or insomnia, especially as you prepare for a summer trip, don’t hesitate to contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn about our services. We have centers in the Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.