Mini panic attacks when falling asleep (Tips)

In this guide, we will discuss Mini panic attacks when falling asleep, what are mini panic attacks, a few scenarios or reasons why you could get mini panic attacks (during the day), why you may get mini panic attacks when falling asleep and the difference between having nightmares, nocturnal panic attacks and mini panic attacks at night. 

Mini panic attacks when falling asleep

If you are familiar with mini panic attacks when falling asleep, you have had sudden bursts of dreadful sensations that may have lasted just a few seconds but have been the precursors to full-blown panic attacks. As indicated by Himanshu Dani from, “They are like quick shocks that startle you and often fuel your anxiety.”  

These episodes come suddenly and without a warning, giving you the sense of impending doom, the uncomfortable physical symptoms in just a matter of seconds. We know they can be quite scary and frightening but they are not harmful or life threatening. Most people diagnosed with panic disorder are more likely to experience the mini panic attacks.

However, mini panic attacks are not only associated with panic disorder. Some people without anxiety issues can also experience mini panic attacks during their daily life activities but they are believed to be situational and tend to go away quickly. For instance, imagine you suddenly hear a loud noise that had the ability to startle you, this can be considered a mini panic attack.

Moreover, this type of anxious response is actually beneficial since it keeps us aware of any potential threats or dangerous situations. Let’s take a look at some of the situations where you might get mini panic attacks.

While doing physical activity

Panic attack sufferers have a hyperactive nervous system which means they are in a constant state of alert so they are more prone to have mini panic attacks when doing even the smallest physical activities. For instance, if you were to move something from your living room such as your couch or getting to your office using the stairs 2 to 3 floors away may put you at risk of having mini panic attacks.

According to Himanshu Dani from, “Because you are an anxiety sufferer your nervous system is always on the edge. The overactive nervous system produces the sensations of anxiety because the physical stress triggers it to produce the sensations. It triggers the release of adrenaline in the body for a moment of time. This quick but brief trigger of the fear mechanism because of physical activity gives you mini panic attacks.”

Subsequently you may develop a fear related to doing physical work or even exercising. However, know there is nothing wrong with you, unless stated by your doctor.

Being late somewhere or at something

If you have been late for an appointment, to get to work, a meeting or even a date, you may have felt the agitation that comes with it. These are clear examples of physical and mental stress combined which increases your anxiety levels and is able to generate the mini panic attacks. 

For instance, you have an important meeting to attend to. You already know you are running late and start to think “I am late, need to hurry”. This thought alone is powerful enough to trigger your anxiety giving you a faster heart rate, difficulties breathing, sweating, etc. 

Dealing with the chance of losing something (or someone)

Have you ever experienced that uncertainty and physical discomfort when you thought you have lost your phone? You feel how your body gets activated in a split second just with the thought of having lost your phone, then you remind yourself that you left it somewhere and the feeling seems to fade away. You probably grab your chest and exhale relieved, this is also a mini panic attack.

Moreover, this could happen with the thought of losing someone, for instance, if they break up with you or someone left without saying goodbye. You could have also felt the rush if you thought you missed your flight, your bus or a job opportunity.

Why do I get mini panic attacks when falling asleep?

So far we have discussed under what circumstances you could experience mini panic attacks and how they can precede a full panic attack, why does this happen?

Think about how many times you have been in that ‘limbo’ state between being alert and falling asleep. If you suddenly remembered something you forgot to do or something you will need to do eventually but it is not time yet. For instance, you close your eyes for a few seconds and suddenly wake up with your heart about to burst out of your chest and trouble breathing because you think you are late for your flight but you realize it is still early. 

However, as we have mentioned, mini panic attacks are common but they can precede panic attacks which are even scarier and can last between 10 to 30 minutes.  

In contrast, have you ever experienced the sensation of falling? This is another reason why you could get mini panic attacks when falling asleep is due to hypnic jerks. These are muscle sensations that can happen in your arms, legs or your whole body which generates the sensation of falling or not breathing. 

Nightmares and night terrors (Nocturnal panic attacks)

As indicated by Victoria Leblanc, M.S, LCPC., “Nightmares and night terrors are two separate experiences however are so common that one out of every two adults experiences them on occasion. Night terrors happen in the first few hours after falling asleep and are not typically associated with dreams but rather with feelings, leaving the person unsure of why they woke up in terror.”

Moreover, “…Nightmares are most often linked to REM sleep and dreams. As night goes on your REM sleep gets longer meaning that nightmares typically occur in the early morning hours when REM sleep is at its longest.”

Many people get confused between having mini panic attacks and night terrors. As we have mentioned, mini panic attacks only last for a few seconds and can happen when you are in the process of falling asleep. However, night terrors happen when you are asleep and will abruptly wake you up with the symptoms of a daytime panic attack lasting for a few minutes, where they may lead to having difficulties going back to sleep or even insomnia. 

If you experience frequent mini panic attacks when falling asleep consider identifying the most common reasons or triggers as we have discussed. Moreover, try to focus on your breathing using slow, deep breaths to normalize your heart rate and breathing pattern. During the day consider doing some light exercise and even meditating, or even keeping a journal where you can write what makes you anxious during the day. These may potentially help you deal with anxiety or any worrying thoughts more effectively.

Why is this blog about Mini panic attacks when falling asleep is important?

As we discussed, mini panic attacks when falling asleep are not dangerous and only last a few seconds. Remember they are situational and if you analyze them, you will potentially find the triggers. It is important to determine whether you are experiencing mini panic attacks, nightmares or nocturnal panic attacks based on the triggers and time each episode lasts. 

Dealing with anxiety and stress during the day could help you manage it better during the night. If you determine you are suffering from any of the conditions we have mentioned, make sure to set up an appointment with your doctor to further assess the situation. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Mini panic attacks when falling asleep

Why do I get scared when I’m falling asleep?

If you get scared when you fall asleep it may be that you have somniphobia which causes extreme anxiety and fear around the thought of going to bed. This phobia is also known as hypnophobia, clinophobia, sleep anxiety, or sleep dread. Moreover, sleep disorders may be responsible for experiencing anxiety around sleeping.

How do I stop night time anxiety?

If you would like to stop night time anxiety, you can do the following before going to bed:

– Keep a worry journal where you can write down all your worries getting them on paper and out of your head.

– Try reading a book but avoid reading on your phone.

– Keep your room dark and with the appropriate temperature (not too hot or too cold).

– Adopt sleep hygiene habits.

– Manage stress during the day by adopting coping strategies. 

Can anxiety wake you up?

Anxiety can keep you awake at night and also wake you up. Feeling anxious from time to time is normal but when someone experiences anxiety frequently, they may develop generalized anxiety disorder which can cause a person to wake up at night or have difficulties staying asleep.

Why do I feel like I’m going to die if I fall asleep?

If you feel like you are going to die if you fall asleep you may be having sleep paralysis. However, most people experience it in the morning, upon awakening. This condition is often associated with frightening dreaming called ‘hypnopompic hallucinations’. This phenomenon is less frequent when someone is falling asleep.

What does a nocturnal panic attack feel like?

A nocturnal panic attack may feel like a day time panic attack with the same or similar symptoms. These panic attacks can happen without any obvious trigger and will wake you up making you feel confused and frightened. The symptoms include sweating, increased heart rate and breathing rate, chest pain, feeling like choking, hyperventilation, and a sense of impending doom.


Dani, H. (2018, Feb) Mini panic attacks: The sudden bursts of dreadful sensations. Retrieved from

Leblanc, V. (2018, Oct.) 7 Steps to Stop Anxiety before Sleep. Retrieved from

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