Last updated on September 6, 2020
I’m waking during the night completely paralyzed but still awake and aware of what is happening. While paralyzed I become very hot and I can’t breathe. It has now become even worse. When I wake up paralyzed my heart is beating so fast. It is roaring so intensely, I can hear the blood rush all around my body. The last time it happened, it lasted for a long time — longer than before. I am not sure why this is happening to me. I’m scared I might die in my sleep next time.
What you are describing is what is called a panic attack. People don’t die from them, though it feels that way. While the symptoms are well known, the causes are less certain. Some people inherit the disorder. Others come down with them because of the drugs that they take. Still others have physical causes, such as problems with the thyroid gland causing hormonal changes in the body. Emotional trauma can also bring on panic attacks. People who have been sexually assaulted are prone to panic attacks. It is also known that teenagers are prone to panic attacks, probably because they are having huge hormonal, physical, and mental changes during the adolescent years.
Panic attacks shouldn’t be ignored. Even if there isn’t a physical cause, people who experience these attacks have a tendency to try to self-medicate them away and end up addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Let’s first try some non-medical treatment:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Many drugs are known to cause panic attacks. For example, alcohol will bring on attacks more frequently. Marijuana causes panic attacks when you are withdrawing from it.
- Avoid caffeine. There is some evidence that caffeine makes panic attacks more frequent.
- Learn stretches and relaxation techniques. These won’t stop an attack, but they give you the tools to manage your attacks. You can counter the attacks and lessen their severity.
- Get active. The more you do things that cause you to breathe hard, the less frequently you’ll have panic attacks.
I had a young man staying with us for a bit who suffered from panic attacks. He would let me know when he was experiencing one or about to get one. I would help him stretch and give him a massage while getting him to talk about pleasant and calm things. That would get him through the attack and often allowed him to sleep through the night. Perhaps someone around you can do the same for you.
If these things don’t help, you need to see a doctor about them. The first chore is to eliminate any obvious physical cause, so don’t accept a prescription for medication until all the physical possibilities are considered first. There are a few doctors who will just throw medication at a problem, trying to guess what may work.
There is also a milder form that doesn’t include the racing heart that is called “sleep paralysis.” People who suffer from this find that they are less likely to have these episodes if they sleep on their sides instead of on their backs.