Not being able to sleep can actually be quite a traumatic. As a doctor will tell you there are two things that keep us from falling asleep — a worry and or physical discomfort. In your case it is the worry that is keeping you up. Possibly the worry of an anxiety attack as you sleep‚ and the worry of not being able to sleep and how that will affect your performance the following day. It’s a viscous cycle.
The exact causes for nocturnal panic attacks are not known. So what we need to help you do is reduce the frequency of them and if they do happen‚ to come out of them quickly.
We know that most nocturnal panic attacks are not caused by dreams. Records of sleep polysomnographia show a maximum of panic attacks during early sleep phase (phase II)‚ not during the REM–phases associated with dreams. This is a major difference to nightmares. Nightmares happen during the second half of the night‚ so we are often able to remember the content of these dreams.
When awoken with a nocturnal panic attack‚ use my One Move technique and that will drop your anxiety significantly. You will then probably find it takes you some time to get back to sleep as your mind is racing with all the things that could go wrong during the night. Should you find your mind racing and you cannot get back to sleep. Have a journal beside your bed and start to write down all of the symptoms you are feeling.
"I was feeling xxx now I feel yyy" and continue to write until this actually becomes quite a boring exercise and your body and mind will want to return to sleep.
Writing down what you are feeling e.g. "now I feel less tired and eyelids heavy" is a simple tool for preparing your mind in a linear way to wind down and return to sleep. (An advanced form of counting sheep) Don’t be afraid of writing pages and pages of nothing in particular‚ what you are doing is helping the conscious mind release whatever is keeping it wake so it can relax and return to sleep.
It is also important when preparing for bed not to go to bed fearing you might awake with a nocturnal panic attack. Go to bed confident that if one should arise you will deal with it successfully. That way you do not put yourself under pressure to "not to have an anxiety attack".
If you are overly anxious about not getting a good night sleep then adopt the following attitude:
Each night as you retire say to yourself…
"I am preparing for bed but I will not try and force sleep — if it comes it comes — if not I will not beat myself up over it."
Every person goes through periods of sleeplessness from time to time it is very natural‚ you may not be aware of why you are experiencing what you do but at the very least you can accept it.
When you wake in the night don’t leave your bed try and stay there‚ getting up and watching television etc takes you further out of the sleep pattern and it is best you stay in bed — reading/writing is fine but always do so lying down as that sends a message to the brain that it really is bed time.
Naturally the best way to get a good nights sleep is a good physical workout each evening. This is very effective as the mind may try and keep you awake but the sheer physical exhaustion will bring sleep on quicker.
The frustration at not being able to sleep is important to surrender. Surrender to what ever may or may not happen during the course of a night and you will sleep naturally. It is the anger and frustration that most often keeps you awake.