HealthEssentials: Clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, explains why nighttime panic attacks occur and gives guidance on how to manage them.

“They’re pretty common and the majority of people who have been diagnosed with panic disorder have probably experienced nocturnal panic attacks,” says Dr. Bea. While anxiety is thought to be a component of sleep panic attacks, other stressors can trigger them.

“The absolute cause of panic attacks is pretty unknown at this point, but people who experience them may have histories of panic disorder, other anxiety disorders or behavioral health concerns that might be causing stress in general.”

Dr. Bea adds that when people feel panicked, it’s very common that they might be experiencing situations in their life where they feel relatively trapped.

“It could be occupationally, it could be in a relationship or in some other role that they’re playing. It’s not uncommon to see correlates of that sort of tension in people who are having nighttime panic attacks. However, these types of panic attacks aren’t limited to people with a history of anxiety. They also aren’t rare. About 18% of panic attacks that people experience seem to occur at night.”

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