panic attack + Insomnia

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Hi folks,

i've been suffering from insomnia for 2 weeks now, prior to that I had a panic attack, it felt like I was going to die/I was going crazy. That left me overly anxious/depressed and started to have sleeping problems.Is there any chance that the Cortisol/stress hormone that our body releases during panic attack can damage our bran/ability to sleep?

or I'm just overthinking? I'm incredibly worried that I might have lost my ability to sleep (I search online it seems a possibility) i could barely go to sleep the past week weeks, sometimes I would get 2-3 hours of sleep, sometimes no sleep at all. Last Friday, I had several hours of sleep which makes me feel better but Satuday night, I'm not sure if I slept at all but I remember a vivid dream, today no sleep again.

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12 Replies

  • Posted

    You're right Rion - you're overthinking things!

    You're also right about the cortisol that's released in a panic attack or any other stressful situation. It does indeed affect your brain and stop you from sleeping at the time. However, it has no permanent effect whatever and can't damage your brain or your long-term ability to sleep.

    What's happened here is that you've simply got yourself into a panic over your sleep problems, and your anxiety is keeping you awake - even if you don't feel particularly anxious when you go to bed. Anxiety can run under the surface without you being aware of it, which can be just as harmful.

    Please don't believe that stuff you've read on-line about losing your ability to sleep. I know which disease you're talking about. It's a vanishingly-rare neurological condition, of which only about 100 cases have been diagnosed worldwide since it was first identified more than 60 years ago. It also involves all kinds of severe neurological symptoms - symptoms that would make it completely impossible for you to physically type posts if you really had it. (I'm a former specialist neuro nurse by the way, as well as a chronic insomniac, so I know what I'm talking about.) Unfortunately, young men suffering from sleep anxiety - and quite a few trolls too - have taken to discussing this condition on-line as if it was as common as the flu!

    The truth is no one ever died from simple insomnia. It can make you feel exhausted but it won't kill you and you won't permanently lose your ability to sleep either. What about parents of young children, who often go through several years of poor sleep?

    One thing it is quite safe to google is Sleep State Misperception. This is the one where you're convinced you haven't closed your eyes all night but you actually got a reasonable amount of sleep. I used to have this myself. I went through 40 years of poor sleep, starting in my mid-20s and continuing till I retired from paid employment nearly 10 years ago. In the early days I was convinced I wasn't sleeping at all, but partners and room-mates would often tell me I'd slept for several hours on these nights, and even snored.

    Just calm down, stop reading on-line horror stories, and you'll find your sleep will return. If you're having frequent panic attacks you might want to see a doctor. However, I'd advise staying away from regular use of sleeping pills - they all stop working in the end and leave you in an even worse position. If your doctor prescribes them it's safe to take them just for a few days, to restore your confidence in your ability to sleep, but not on a permanent basis. If the panic attacks persist, see if you can get yourself referred for some cognitive behavioural therapy, which is the best treatment for anxiety.

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  • Posted

    Thank you Lily! Your response is such a relief! I'm really overtaken by anxiety and it keep getting worse as I continue to get no sleep, it's getting to the point I'm going crazy. At this point, I'm trying hard to convince myself that I didnt lose the ability to sleep, I spoke to my doctor about this, he proscribed me some herbal medicine called passionflower, I'll give it a try

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  • Posted

    Your doctor prescribed you herbal stuff? Seriously?? Wow, just wow! That is amazing to hear and I am so happy for you that you have found someone who will not push hard drugs on you!

    I used to take passion flower, along with a load of other herbal stuff, amino acids, high dose vitamins and so forth in order to repair the damage done by drugs.

    Your anxiety and insomia can be controlled and completely eradicated by natural supplements and meditation, you just have to know which ones to take and how to do it. I went to a naturopath who helped me (search for "balancing brain chemisty" with P3ter Sm1th (spelled correctly obviously!); if the passion flower does not sort you out I strongly suggest you do the same. Check out his web site!

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    • Posted

      Thanks for that daz. I realise that you're doing your natural/herbal stuff responsibly with correct supervision, but as a former nurse I feel obliged to point out to others who may read this that herbal is by no means always harmless.

      Many people falsely equate herbal remedies with homeopathy. Homeopathy can be helpful in all kinds of conditions. I've often used it myself and found it very useful for autoimmune conditions. I didn't personally find it helped during my years of insomnia, though this is another avenue that might be worth exploring.

      The thing about homeopathy is that it will never harm, even if it doesn't help. Also, there is no problem in the case of overdose.

      Sadly, the same is not true of herbal remedies, which should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor or a fully-qualified naturopath, and only ever at the recommended dose. This is particularly true of Chinese herbal remedies, which have been responsible for quite a few deaths in the UK over the years - mainly due to unintentional contamination with other toxic herbs, comfrey being one of the usual suspects.

      So... I fully agree that herbal remedies, correctly prescribed and correctly taken, are a much better solution than sleeping pills. I'm just reminding people to be careful with them.

      Another alternative, which worked very well for a friend of mine, is acupuncture. She went through a stressful period in her 50s and suddenly developed terrible insomnia. After trying sleeping pills, CBT, hypnosis and just about every natural remedy, including homeopathy, without success, she eventually found an acupuncturist who got her sleeping quite normally again. It took six months of regular sessions, but she's never looked back.

      Just another word of caution. In some countries acupuncturists aren't regulated, so caution may be required once again. There have been reports of nerve damage and infection - up to and including HIV - in some countries. I'm fortunate enough to live in a country where both acupuncturists and homeopaths have to be fully-qualified doctors, and where herbal remedies can only be sold in pharmacies, but I realise this isn't the same everywhere in the world.

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    • Posted

      Hello Lily, nice to chat with you 😃

      I took some time thinking of a response because, and I apologize in advance, my first reaction to anyone with formal medical training, and who works for the US healthcare system, or the "NHS" in the UK, or any similar outfit, is to want to "tear them a new one", and accuse them of being nothing more than drug pushing morons. However, this is not always the case.

      I nearly had my life destroyed by modern psychiatric medication, prescribed to me for PTSD. When I came off the drug, I went (literally) insane. My doctor told me it was "evidence I was still ill", thus suggested I go back on the drug. Little did I know it was THE DRUG that had caused the problems I was experiencing (unrelenting insomnia and delusions/paranoia). Research, and talking to the individual I mentioned above, revealed exactly what had happened in my brain. And that scared me. It really did. My doctor, a person who I was supposed to trust with my life, wanted me to go back on the very drug that had damaged my brain. (Just think about that for a moment, then re-read my first paragraph. Hopefully you can see my motivation for it now 😃)

      Herbal remedies, amino acids and meditation saved my life. I have no doubt of that.

      IN MY OPINION THEREFORE, unless an individual is severely psychotic or on the verge of hurting themselves/another person, herbals/amino acids should, in my mind, be the first port of call, as long as this is done under correct supervision (like the person I linked to earlier!). As an example, for someone with mild anxiety to get prescribed (then hooked) on a benzo like xanax, then go through the absolute torment that is the withdrawal process, is nothing short of criminal.

      As a former nurse, do you have any REAL idea of the pharmacology behind these drugs, thus how they actually work, and the horrific side effects they can cause? (Does "chemical lobotomy" strike any chords in you?) If you do, and are NOT aware of the natural alternatives, then fair enough. But if you do, and you ARE aware of the issues they cause, yet continue to recommend them... well, let's just say you wouldn't be on my Christmas card list.

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    • Posted

      Don't tar us all with the same brush daz! Also, I was never a psychiatric nurse. The disciplines of psychology and neurology stopped being lumped together 100 years ago, though the physical state of the brain can obviously impact on one's state of mind. That being said, I actually know quite a lot about rebound psychosis due to misuse of antipsychotic drugs.

      A while back I took on the care of a friend from the other side of the world who had no family in Europe, was going into the early stages of vascular dementia, and didn't want to return to a country she'd left 50 years earlier. When she became a risk to herself and her neighbours (fires and floods in her apartment) she agreed to go into a very nice residential home that another friend and I found for her. We called, visited, took her out several times a week, and she integrated into the busy social life of the home, looking after other residents and running errands for them.

      After a year or so it all went wrong. A minor incident in the home recalled memories of horrific childhood sexual abuse which she'd never talked about. (Her younger brother eventually opened up in a phone call and told me about this abuse, to which all the siblings in the family had been subjected.) When my friend became slightly aggressive as a result of the incident, the home's idiot GP prescribed a full dose (starting at 4mg per day) of the antipsychotic risperidone to this 79-year-old lady weighing just 50kg/110lb. Within 24 hours she was completely immobilised by Parkinson-like symptoms, and already starting to get bedsores. After three weeks the doctor panicked and stopped the drug abruptly.

      My friend never came back from the full-blown rebound psychosis that resulted from these actions. Having made repeated serious attempts on the lives of staff and other patients (and me) she had to be transferred to a secure psycho-geriatric facility which was the stuff of nightmares, where she survived for another year. And still untrained GPs all over the world are prescribing high doses of these powerful drugs to frail, elderly patients manifesting minor aggression. And yes, I'm aware that this is an off-label use.

      The bottom line is: you don't need to preach to me about the dangers of incorrect prescribing of antipsychotics and other psychotropic drugs.

      On the other hand, I know there are cases where antipsychotics have changed people's lives for the better. I've volunteered in a mental health centre for nearly 10 years now - where, incidentally, a couple of the clients are battling benzo addiction due to casual overprescription of these drugs by GPs 20-30 years ago. One of our clients is a middle-aged man whose brain had been wrecked by 30 years' heavy use of the full panoply of recreational drugs starting in late childhood. After getting arrested for random attacks on members of the public, he was forcibly detained for a year, during which time a medication programme was worked out. Two years on, and still being carefully monitored, he is courageously rebuilding his life, and acknowledges that this turn-around is partly due to his medication.

      I can see from your post that you've suffered as a result of the over-dependence of modern medicine on powerful psychotropic drugs. I sympathise whole-heartedly, and agree that no one fully understands the actions of these drugs. I also agree that properly-prescribed herbal remedies should be the first option. When I went into a mild depression following the death of my mother 12 years ago, I was quite happy to take the St. John's Wort my GP prescribed, and would never have agreed to taking conventional antidepressants.

      I fully understand why you feel it's important to raise awareness of this issue, and I'm with you all the way. I wish you all the very best for your continued recovery.

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    • Posted

      Thank you for that thoughtful reply Lily. I wasn't "taring" anyone; I was simply expressing my concerns that are based on my dealings with medical professionals.

      I am very sorry to hear about your friend; I hope the doctor either got struck off for such casual prescription of such a powerful drug.

      And thank you for clarifying that I don't need to "preach" to you about the dangers of psychiatric drugs; that did, however, become clear after reading your earlier paragraph 😃

      I do agree that drugs can save people in some circumstances (such as those I outlined in my previous message); however the oversubscription of them by doctors (not psychiatrists) who really are not qualified to make decisions about whether or not they should be prescribed is nothing short of criminal. As an example, some doctors use a simple "questionnaire" that determines if an individual is "depressed"; if this determines that they are, antidepressants are offered as a first line solution. Herbal stuff, then therapy, should be the routes taken first. Ugh, I get angry just thinking about it.

      I can only speculate that doctors get paid by the amount of drugs they push. Which explains their willingness to push them on people. Ugh again.

      I applaud you for taking the herbs instead of the medicine. I assume it worked! Good for you, Lily; I hope this experience facilitates your sharing of the benefits of the natural route.

      I'd also like to thank you for volunteering in the role you do; this can't be easy, but with your experience and obvious caring nature I believe you will continue to help many people.

      It has been good conversing with you Lily; all the best to you, and take good care 😃

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    • Posted

      Daz, I fully agree that it's GPs who are the main problem in prescribing these powerful drugs without fully understanding them. I don't believe they're paid directly for this, but I do think B1g F@rm@ (hope that'll get through) is responsible for providing inducements for GPs to prescribe their drugs - and not just the psychotropic variety. My own GP, who has become something of a friend, tells me he gets very irritated by drug reps coming to see him and offering all-expenses-paid trips to symposia and the like. He says they don't actually make prescription of their drugs a condition of these offers, but their motives are quite transparent. He's a man of impeccable moral values, but says he suspects a lot of his younger colleagues get swept up in this kind of thing.

      I live in continental Europe (though had all my nursing experience in the UK) so this isn't just a US/UK problem. A sad state of affairs indeed.

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  • Posted

    What vitamins/minerals would you recommend? What is naturopath? Did it help you with your sleep problems? Is there a possibility my brain chemistry is not balanced which is why I have insomnia? How does it relate to stress/anxiety which I believe caused it?

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    • Posted

      I am not going to recommend specific stuff to you as I suggest you speak to P3ter about it. But yes, it corrected my problems and made me sleep better than I have EVER slept.

      Stress and anxiety are usually caused by low levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA; if you have low levels of this you also cannot sleep/have frequent waking. This is the issue I had with my medication that damaged my GABA receptors so I was physically unable to stay asleep (same problem occurs with benzos and benzo-based sleeping tablets). The meditation and herbs/amino acids increased GABA safely and rebuilt my receptors.

      Let me know how you get on!

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