Overview of Sleep Attacks

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jan 26, 2020 10:00:00 AM

Overview of sleep attacks - Anchroage Sleep Center

What is a Sleep Attack?

Sleep attacks are sudden and overpowering urges to sleep that occur at unexpected times, such as during a meeting. They strike swiftly, interrupting your normal activities and making you feel as if you just woke up and immediately need to go back to sleep. These sleep attacks can pose a serious safety risk in certain professions and activities like driving.

It's important to note that sleep attacks are not the same as feeling tired after a meal or hitting a wall of exhaustion at night, although they share a similar intensity. They are commonly associated with the sleep disorder narcolepsy, with frequent sleep attacks being a primary symptom of this condition.

What Does It Feel Like to Have a Sleep Attack?

Sleep attacks hit very quickly, and often without any warning – though people who experience them chronically report feeling one come on before it hits. Sleep attacks often hit at random times, without any specific pattern to when they hit. Sometimes it may be during sex or exercise, sometimes it may be when watching TV or in the middle of a meeting.  

Regardless of when it comes, the feeling is this: a sudden wave of tiredness and the irresistible urge to sleep comes, not terribly unlike when you wake up in the morning after little sleep, and every part of your body tells you to close your eyes and go back to sleep.

These irresistible urges may be intense though still allow you to do things like excuse yourself from a meeting and go to your car/office to rest. They may be so intense that you don’t really have the ability to react, but only to put your head down until the attack passes.

What Causes Sleep Attacks?

Sleep attacks are basically when REM sleep shows up when it’s not supposed to, causing sudden and strong tiredness.

Sleep attacks are most commonly associated with narcolepsy. When many of us think about narcolepsy, it’s of somebody passing out mid-sentence. What this actually depicts is a severe sleep attack.

Such sleep attacks, while not common, can happen, though the person may continue speaking/typing without any recollection later of doing so (similar to sleep talking/walking). Not all narcoleptics suffer from sleep attacks, but it is a hallmark symptom of the disorder.The Nightmare is thought to originate from Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a scary sleep disorder symptom, such as depicted above, that is commonly associated with sleep paralysis

Other hallmark symptoms of narcolepsy that may accompany sleep attacks include:

  • Being tired all the time
  • Cataplexy
  • Sleep paralysis, which may be accompanied by hallucinations

What to Do When You Have a Sleep Attack?

Dealing with a sleep attack depends on its severity, and individuals with narcolepsy who regularly experience sleep attacks have learned to have a backup plan in place. For instance, when in unfamiliar environments, they make a point of identifying potential rest areas in case a sleep attack strikes. They also choose occupations that offer flexibility, allowing them to retreat to their car or close their office door to rest during a sleep attack. Informing employers about their sleep attacks is crucial, as it enables them to find a safe space, such as a break room, in the event of an attack. It's also important to avoid situations where a sleep attack could potentially be dangerous. However, individuals who experience severe sleep attacks may have little to no time to react, necessitating even more cautious measures in their daily lives.

What to Do If You Have Frequent Sleep Attacks?

If you are experiencing sleep attacks regularly, it is probably a good idea to consult with a sleep specialist and/or your doctor. For people who experience regular sleep attacks, a sleep study is often one of the first diagnostic tests to help narrow down a cause of the symptoms.

It’s also helpful to keep a sleep journal in the days leading up to your appointment, importantly capturing information like:

  • Time of sleep attack
  • Duration of sleep attack
  • Intensity of sleep attack
  • What you were doing at the time of the sleep attack

This will help answer important questions like:

  • How often the sleep attacks come
  • If there is a pattern to the sleep attacks
  • How severe they are

Is There Treatment for Sleep Attacks?

Unfortunately, there are no specific cures for sleep attacks. However, people who experience them can take measures to help reduce their frequency:

  • Get plenty of rest every night! This entails good eating/drinking habits, regular exercise, and creating a good room to sleep in
  • Try and avoid charged situations, as some report high stress and/or emotional intensity as triggering
  • Choose work environments that allow you to address sleep attacks as they come
  • Keep a journal to understand whether specific situations or contexts make you more prone for a sleep attack
  • Try and see if you notice any changes in yourself directly before a sleep attack so that you have more time to prepare for them in the future

If you struggle from sleep attacks or have more questions, please contact us immediately – start by clicking the orange button below to take a free online sleep test.

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Topics: Sleep Attacks

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