A recent study showed a relationship between sleep apnea and panic attacks. Learn more about it here.
Why this happens is a good question especially for those who experience panic attacks at inopportune times. During a panic attack, you think you are about to be threatened and you are in danger. Panic attacks are those awful experiences when you encounter anxiety or fear when there is no clear and present danger.
There are about 6 million adults in the United States who have panic disorders of some type. Women are two times more likely to have the disorder than men, but men do experience panic attacks, too.
Why you have panic attacks is unknown. Some theories suggest you may be under stress, or perhaps genetics and brain changes play a part in a panic attack.When you experience a panic attack, you just want to run away or fight the invisible attacker. The amalgada, or gland that secretes responses associated with fear, is the culprit that brings on a panic attack.
When involved in a disturbing or distressing incident, you get an adrenaline rush. Adrenaline allows you to do something about the what’s happening around you. Your brain tells you to either run or fight. A panic attack is similar. Adrenaline rushes throughout your body, and you are ready to run away or fight the bad guy. The difference between an adrenaline rush and a panic attack - there is no threat or danger near you.
Panic attacks can happen as you sleep. A nightmare is a type of panic attack. In a study, cell researchers tested the connection between sleep apnea and panic attacks and they determined there is a definite connection. You wake up suddenly in a nightmare, and you wake up gaping and gulping with sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Someone suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or OSA experiences lapses in breathing over 30 times per hour, and you don’t even know it. When these lapses occur, the brain the receives a panic signal. Your body jerks awake to resume breathing.
Sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of your airway when the tissues in the back of your throat collapse during sleep. This blockage cuts off health-giving oxygen and increases carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide disrupts sleep, fills your lungs with “poison,” and creates a myriad of health issues like heart failure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety.
An increase in carbon dioxide in the brain affects those areas of the brain that trigger panic attacks.
Sleep Apnea and Anxiety
Studies by Cell, a journal of studies conducted by experts on health issues, recently concluded if you have sleep apnea you are prone to anxiety which is a component in sleep disorders. You cannot breathe properly, carbon dioxide enters your lungs, and you wake up gasping for air.
Frequently, nocturnal panic attacks can wake you up. Feelings of fear, anxiety and panic can last for just a few minutes or an entire night. Sleep apnea episodes also disrupt sleep even if you don’t know they are happening.When you think about it, during apneic episodes, your body undergoes a panic attack.
In the Cell journal, reports state that when researchers increased carbon dioxide in participants while they slept, the amygdala region of the brain detected these high levels of carbon dioxide and to combat these levels, a behavioral response was triggered. The response acted like a panic attack or sleep apnea.
Studies by sleep doctors and medical professionals state those who have sleep apnea often exhibit anxiety issues or have anxiety and panic attacks during the day. Research studies further emphasize there is a connection between anxiety disorders and sleep apnea. When your sleep is disturbed, and you are exhausted or tired, you feel disoriented and anxious.
Results of Sleep Apnea and Anxiety
Your body stops breathing, and you are forced to choke for air. If you don’t take care of your sleep apnea, the anxiety worsens until you are fatigued during the day, fall asleep at your desk, and are a menace on the roads.
Without the proper deep sleep, there are physical consequences. Anxiety disrupts your thoughts and you often eat to calm down. Poor eating habits are the result and your waistline increases, and you gain weight. Weight gain leads to heart disease, diabetes, and other cardiovascular conditions. Anxiety, panic attacks, sleep disturbances and health issues become intertwined.
Anxiety distorts your ability to process information. When you have a panic attack, you are not acting reasonably. You feel the weight of doom pressing down on you and all you want to do is fight something or run away.
Sleep deprivation magnifies the feeling of being dizzy and fuzzy in the morning. Sleep deprivation caused by anxiety keeps you from thinking clearly. Panic attacks result from not thinking through your reactions logically.
Treatments for Sleep Apnea Can Ease Panic Attacks
To treat your sleep apnea, sleep doctors suggest you use positive airway pressure devices or CPAP devices. CPAP machines are used with different types of breathing masks and supply pressurized air. The air flows either intermittently or continuously into the sleeper’s throat, and air pressure keeps the airway from collapsing.
Oral appliances are increasing in popularity, and over 100 different oral devices are FDA approved to treat sleep apnea. Wear them in your mouth, just like a sports mouth guard while you sleep. Your lower jaw is held forward just enough to keep your airway open.
You can also use Upper Airway Stimulation Therapy. This system uses a small generator, a breathing sensor, and a stimulating lead. Just turn on the therapy device when you sleep and turn it off in the morning. When activated this therapy monitors your breathing patterns during sleep and delivers mild stimulation to keep crucial airway muscles open.
Weight loss is a great way to prevent sleep apnea. Almost 70 percent of those with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. Lose the weight, lose the sleep problems, and calm down the anxiety or panic attacks.
Surgery can help, but it is not as effective when treating obstructive sleep apnea. The surgeon must determine what part of the upper airway caused the obstruction. The most common surgery is Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. The success rate is about 50 percent.
Treatment for panic attacks includes treating sleep apnea, counseling or talk therapy, and management tools. Medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety prescription drugs like benzodiazepine, and medications to even out your irregular heartbeat, if you have one are helpful.
Try yoga or deep breathing that relaxes your body and lowers stress. Exercise calms down your mind and offsets the side effects of medications.
When you are experiencing panic attacks have people around you to offer support. Join a support group and talk to others who have panic attacks. If you are feeling tired and anxious, have someone by you.
Studies conclude that if you treat your sleep apnea, your panic attacks may subside. Nothing is more embarrassing and distressing that standing during the grocery store sweating and being unable to move.