Deconstructing: Nocturnal Panic Attacks, Which Apparently Is A “Thing.”


I would prefer to never go to another ER, ever again, for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, I said that last time, as well. And the time before that. And the time before that.

The dumbest ER visit I ever had was probably the time I smashed my thumb in the car door, and I had to get my thumbnail burnt (cauterized?) in order to release the pressure for the blood that was pooling underneath. That is not a noble purpose for being in the ER, I don’t think, but luckily there was a body builder in triage with me who had the same problem. So, that made me feel a little better.

Or maybe the super dumbest visit was when my guinea pig, Chewbacca, bit my finger and I knew I needed stitches as soon as I saw how deep that cut was. That was pretty stupid, and the doctor sewing me up got a good laugh out of it.

Those were pretty silly visits, and they at least make me feel a little better thinking about them.

Because I have had other visits which haven’t been as silly.

The other visits were terrifying, and it honestly is my goal in life to never revisit them. I would rather not revisit unrelenting SVT attacks where my heart is beating at a rate of 255/minute and not giving up. I would very much not like to have a needle filled with a solution “that will just stop your heart for a second, but don’t worry. It’ll start again” pressed against my arm. I don’t want to be admitted, again, for testing to check for “Sudden Death Syndrome.”

And yet, I voluntarily went to the ER last night.

Because I didn’t know what else to do.  And the advice nurse berated me on the phone to stop messing around and get my butt to the ER. So, off we went.

Here’s what happened.

Saturday morning sprang upon me like a pack of hungry dogs, fighting each other in my chest. The very center of my chest was tight, excruciatingly painful and made it difficult to breathe easily. I woke up with this sudden pain both in my chest and in my shoulders and down the top of my back, and sat up trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I couldn’t lay on my back, because it hurt to breathe. I couldn’t lay on my side, because that hurt too. If I just sat straight up, I was okay. So I sat up and read for about an hour until Ben woke up and asked what was going on.

We’ve been through this before, and he knew something was wrong just by the look of worry in my eyes.

It felt like a panic attack, which I have had before.  tl;dr – they suck. But…I was sleeping. What’s going on??

The last time this happened was a year ago when we were up to our ears in stress from moving, dealing with selling our old house, dealing with half of our things being stolen, the house being (severely) vandalized, etc., etc. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise to have some anxiety problems then. I just took a bath, had some tea, slept it off…for the most part. I mean, the entire time I was also thinking, “THIS IS JUST A PANIC ATTACK AND YOU AREN’T DYING.” I remember it taking a long time to recover, but I felt back to normal in the morning, so I called it good to go.

This time, nothing is particularly stressful around here. We’re chillin’, gettin’ stuff done, and just being generally groovy all the time. And I was ASLEEP. So what’s up?? says,

“about 10% of all attacks happen nocturnally. However, because of the circumstances, the symptoms of sleep panic attacks can seem to be more intense and terrifying than during the day. And an attack can seem to last longer for many sufferers.”

Mayo Clinic says,

“Nighttime (nocturnal) panic attacks can occur with no obvious trigger and awaken you from sleep. As with a daytime panic attack, you may experience sweating, rapid heart rate, trembling, shortness of breath, heavy breathing (hyperventilation), flushing or chills, and a sense of impending doom. These signs and symptoms are quite alarming and can mimic those of a heart attack or another serious medical condition.”

I can completely concur with this feeling, especially feeling like a heart attack. My chest was tight, it hurt to breathe, I was sweating more than usual, and my back hurt (which freaked me out the most)…and the lingering symptoms lasted all day.

“However, just as with daytime attacks, nocturnal panic attacks symptoms cannot harm you.”

And I know this. I know it is a panic attack, and I know it isn’t harmful, and I know nothing is wrong. I know this.

However, even after staying in bed until noon, taking a walk on the beach, drinking tea, having something to eat, and making sure I was drinking plenty of water…over 12 hours later, I was still feeling it. My chest didn’t hurt nearly as much, but my back still hurt and I was still out of breath when I walked to the bathroom or up the stairs.

I couldn’t mess around with this any longer, and we went to Urgent Care.

Which was closed.

So I called an Advice Nurse in the parking lot. She was doing 20 Questions with me on the phone, until about halfway through she lost her patience with me (which is why I love Advice Nurses) and said, “Listen. I’m hearing your symptoms, and I can hear you talking yourself out of going to the ER. You can’t mess around with chest pain, and you need to get in the car and go. Immediately.”

I said, “Yes, ma’am” and got in the car and drove to the ER.

Which I was trying to avoid like the plague.

The ER I went to was one of the best I have ever been in. They were clean, friendly, and darn quick with everything. I was in and out in record time (granted, we were there for a while, so “record ER time”).

They took my vitals, which were all good (yay exercise!). They gave me an EKG, which looked fantastic. Also, I am going to give them mad props for the stickies they put all over me: normally, those things hurt like crazy ripping them off. But these were like removing a heavy-duty post-it note from your skin. Also, EKGs in the past have taken hours to finish. And this one was a “6 Second EKG.” Thank you, doctors!!

They took a chest x-ray, which showed no signs of aorta leakage, tuberculosis, lung cancer or pneumonia.

IMG_1505I may have asked for a print-out to show the kids…

They also drew blood to test for a heart attack. This was new to me, since I haven’t been tested for that until now, but according to “

“During a heart attack, heart muscle cells die and release proteins into the bloodstream.Blood tests can measure the amount of these proteins in the bloodstream. Higher than normal levels of these proteins suggest a heart attack.

Commonly used blood tests include troponin tests, CK or CK–MB tests, and serum myoglobin tests. Blood tests often are repeated to check for changes over time.”

That test took about 45 minutes to get the results, which is still crazy record time. I was expecting them to mail me the results in 2-3 weeks (#experience). So hanging out in the ER room and playing apps with Ben for a little while was fantastic.

The doctor came back in and said there was absolutely zero indication that I had a heart attack. Which was  A HUGE RELIEF. Also, my pancreas was good…which was just an added bonus for me (it was something in the tests, along with other doctor-stuff they checked for).

So, his diagnosis: we don’t know why your chest hurts.

But, you aren’t bleeding internally, you have no injuries, your blood pressure is fab, you didn’t have a heart attack, you don’t have pneumonia, you don’t have cancer (screw you, google!), you don’t have tuberculosis and you aren’t dying.

Sweet! So, that was that, and we were on our way home.

As we drove home, I was thinking for the first time: are nocturnal panic attacks a thing?? I have just never had one, and it just seems so odd and out of the blue. So, I googled it (thanks google!).

Sure enough, nocturnal panic attacks are a thing.

They’re a little more intense than a daytime panic attack, and it took my body a lot longer to heal/recover than normal.

But after a good night’s sleep, I can say that I feel back to normal this morning! Everything is feeling good, and I have no chest or back pain left.

So, that is the conclusion to the story of my nocturnal panic attack.

Should we ne’er meet again.