Why I’m having panic attacks at night?

I been having panic attacks when I’m sleep and I wake up and my heart beats fast I don’t know why this is happening
Asked by Leelee

Our bodies are built with the capacity to function by automatically managing itself.  For example, you breathe faster when your body demands more oxygen in response to physical acceleration (heart beating faster) or chemical changes. You do not have to actively tell your body to do these things, thus they are automatic.  Many of the chemicals in your body are in place to help you be safe (for example, if you were in a dangerous situation, your body would release chemicals that help you to escape from that dangerous situation). Some chemical changes in your body may influence your heart rate.  These chemical changes may be a part of what is occurring as you prepare to rest.  Many times, the concerns that we have as we prepare to rest elevate these chemicals and our alertness is impacted.  

Many people who have experienced panic attacks express that they become anxious or worried when they consider the potential of having another panic event. It is normal for these feelings to arrive from time to time.  Thinking about the example above, your body sometimes may 'feel unsafe' and produce chemicals to help you get to safety even when there is nothing actually threatening you.

The majority of our human behaviors are developed over time and become habits.  I like to think about it like sports professionals who have worked really hard to perform well.  They developed habits over time and created "muscle memory" to respond to the challenges of the game.  We have to actively (instead of automatically) develop new "muscle memory" create new habits. 

What would creating new habits in "muscle memory" have to do with having panic attacks (at night)? The truth is that behavior starts with thinking.  By that I mean that before we behave in any way, we think about it first and that thought leads to a behavior.  For example, I was walking into a building today that was new for me and felt some anxiety about being in a new location. In order to keep myself from feeling out of place, I avoided eye contact with people I was encountering.  I asked myself why I did that after the fact and found that I was likely feeling uncertain about this new setting and keeping my sense of self by not making much eye contact until I felt more comfortable.  What I learned from that is that I thought about feeling uncertain first and then acted accordingly.  I now have to choose to be more aware of my thoughts and actively choose different behaviors.

Some things I would recommend in order to prepare yourself for rest is to practice good sleep hygiene by turning off electronics early, reducing the need to respond to emails or texts, reducing food, drink, and caffeine consumption to an earlier time in the day to prevent these from influencing your ability to rest, and practicing Passive Progressive Muscle Relaxation (link to a script on our partner site TherapistAid https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/progressive-muscle-relaxation-script).  As you actively do these things, you create "muscle memory" for feeling at ease automatically and experiencing a feeling of being in control and safe.  Remind yourself that you are safe and practice experiencing the things around you that are real to bring yourself to the present.