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Katharina  Star, Ph.D.

Is Panic Disorder Disturbing your Sleep?

By May 2, 2011

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Researchers have known from past studies that people with panic disorder often have sleep issues. However, a recent study has found that high levels of anxiety sensitivity may be the link between panic disorder and difficulty falling asleep.

Anxiety sensitivity refers to the fear of feeling anxiety-related sensations. It is a very common symptom for those with panic disorder, causing hyperarousal and worry of physical feelings related to anxiety. For example, a person with panic disorder may become fearful to experience any heart palpitations or tingling fingers, as this could signal the start of an attack. One can become so afraid, that it is hard to fall asleep when feeling extremely aware of their senses. Whether or not the individual is aware of their anxiety sensitivity, it can be an obstacle in getting enough restful sleep.

Research participants were individuals diagnosed with panic disorder and were studied at The Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Individuals without panic disorder were also studied to compare results on the Global Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index. It was found that those with panic disorder had poorer sleep, particularly in falling asleep or what is known as sleep latency.

The good news is that anxiety sensitivity can be treated through therapeutic interventions that bring awareness to changing one's thoughts and behaviors. Such treatment, known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be used to treat both panic disorder and any associated anxiety sensitivity. Through CBT, one can learn to think less fearfully about their physical sensations, allowing for an easier transition into sleep.

With May being recognized as Better Sleep Month, now is a great time to develop healthier sleeping habits. Read some tips to help get a good night's sleep.

This study was published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

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