Waking up confused and panicked

Q:  I sometimes awaken in the middle of the night with a horrible feeling like I’ve done something terribly wrong or a loved one has been somehow hurt in an accident.  When this happens I feel panicked, my heart races, and it’s very difficult to fall back asleep.  What is going on?

A:  What you are experiencing could be just a bad dream, or it could be a night terror.  In either case these thoughts can be intensely disturbing or even frightening,  but they are generally harmless if you learn to just let them go.

To better understand what’s going on, consider the normal sleep cycles we typically experience each night.  It’s normal to briefly awaken between the 5 or 6 cycles of sleep each night.  Good sleepers usually fall right back asleep after these transitory awakenings, and typically forget about them by morning.

But if we are under an increased amount of stress, tension, or anxiety, these wake-ups, especially between the earlier cycles in the night, can sometimes be disturbing.  This may be what you are experiencing.

If you are under excessive anxiety or stress, managing these issues during your waking hours may help reduce these disturbing wake ups and help you sleep better.  Key among stress and anxiety management methods is getting good daily exercise, which helps support more robust sleep.

Some stress and anxiety is normal, we all experience them to some degree.  To sleep better, try to identify and address the recurring negative thought patterns that underlie anxiety.  You can also help manage stress by understanding the situations that typically result in a stress response, and modify your reaction to them.

If you are looking for a comprehensive and drug-free solution for better sleep that also helps you address anxiety and manage stress, consider CBT — cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically designed for insomnia.  CBT has been proven to help most people who try it, the improvements are usually permanent, and CBT has no side effects.

In your case, regardless of whether it’s a nightmare or a night terror, remember it’s still only a dream, and dreams cannot hurt you.  It’s OK to safely let them go.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fear, Insomnia, Nightmares, sleep

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