Ugh, not again.
July 30, 2010 12:55 AM   Subscribe

What is this sinking feeling I keep getting, especially at night?

At night and just after I fall asleep I get a jolt of this awful "sinking feeling" in the pit of my stomach. Almost like the feeling your stomach gets on a roller coaster. It is not quite a panic attack, but seems related. Why is this happening? It has gotten to the point that I am reluctant to go to sleep. When it happens I jump out of bed and get very upset, thinking "Oh no not again." Any ideas on how to stop this feeling?
posted by fifilaru to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hypnic jerk? Maybe you're not getting enough sleep (the pot said to the kettle).
posted by Rhaomi at 1:08 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was going to say Hypnic jerk as well. Otherwise, it could be an emotional/psychological thing (such as depression or anxiety) which often is accompanied by feelings of "impending doom". If it's just the physical sensation, it's probably more likely the former but if you have thoughts of something is "wrong" or something bad is going to happen, it could be the latter.
posted by 1000monkeys at 1:40 AM on July 30, 2010

Also, to add: I have the hypnic jerk which usually is like an electric jolt/body spasm but sometimes it feels like I'm falling straight down (like falling out of my body or like an elevator that starts to plummet straight down). If you have the same sensation then it's probably the hypnic response.
posted by 1000monkeys at 1:41 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had symptoms very similar to that. Hypnic jerk, sinking feeling, dread that it's going to happen again, reluctance to sleep. I think it probably is a form of panic attack.

In my case those symptoms coincided with other signs that I was developing an anxiety disorder. Also, I'd wake up every morning feeling a kind of non-specific fear that would usually wear off once I was up and out of the house, but sometimes lasted for a couple of hours.

For me, there were two things that helped: firstly, being diagnosed as suffering from anxiety; secondly, medication. Within just a few weeks the hypnic jerks seemed much less frequent. I was sleeping much better and felt like I was more in control of things. My GP prescribed a sedating antidepressant (a tricyclic) which worked really well for me. I'm not suggesting that the same thing would work for you, but I would suggest that you at least talk the symptoms through with your GP. Anxiety seems to be one of those things that creeps up on you by stealth.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:21 AM on July 30, 2010

I'd call that straight out anxiety. What are you worried about?
posted by h00py at 2:23 AM on July 30, 2010

I get this too. I don't think it's a hypnic jerk. It usually happens to me just after I've fallen asleep, maybe 30 minutes into the sleep cycle, but sometimes less. It's a sudden jolt that wakes me completely in an adrenaline-like way, and I think it is something more like a panic attack, although I don't get panic attacks during the day. I usually find that I start thinking about anxious things as soon as I wake this way, and it often leads to a long bout of insomnia, thinking about the worst possible things: death, failure, tragedy. It's like my subconscious is stewing over some worries or anxieties as I enter sleep, and it pushes my anxiety level over the top and wakes me.

I don't know what to do about it. Like you, it makes me wary of falling asleep-- you start having anxiety about the anxiety. My way of treating this is to read a novel in bed until I'm very sleepy. I only read books that can transport my imagination in good way (no history or nonfiction). I feel like it kind of allows my brain to work on something positive as I'm falling asleep, or at least distract it from whatever is causing the underlying anxiety.
posted by amusebuche at 3:32 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dread and doom. Some EFT would be really beneficial for this.
posted by watercarrier at 4:30 AM on July 30, 2010

How's your job?
posted by resiny at 5:19 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the hypnic jerk idea. Mine started while on SSRIs for anxiety--since my anxiety was at an all-time high at that point, I was never sure whether to blame the panic or the pills, since I didn't have the same problem on tricyclics. Mine developed into sleep-talking (or mumbling or singing or something), with accompanying head-jerks and a feeling that I might have stopped breathing (doesn't seem to be true, but it still feels like it). They don't seem to require real sleep to start, either, only relaxation. Anxiolytics (Klonopin, Ativan, and Xanax were the ones I tried) didn't seem to help either.

This is definitely a talk-to-your-doctor item; you don't want it to take over years of your sleep.
posted by mittens at 5:44 AM on July 30, 2010

posted by hermitosis at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2010

no, hermitosis, sundowning is for elderly people with dementia.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:18 AM on July 30, 2010

It's anxiety. I had it for 10 years and it ruined most of my 30s. I didn't know what caused it either, but I took on a new job when I was 39 and it instantly went away. Turns out, I hated my job more than I knew I did even though none of the anxiety I felt was work-related (or felt work-related) while it was happening.

During, I tried all kinds of solutions, including sleeping pills and SSRIs (which made it MUCH worse).

In short, I'd say that something in your life is ruining your life. It may be obvious. It may not. But whatever it is, it's not going to get better without an active, conscious attempt at changing it. I'd recommend you get on it, pronto. I feel like I lost 10 years to prison.
posted by dobbs at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found that getting all my to-dos on paper and out of my head made my pre-sleep anxiety storms go away.
posted by kimota at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

What Kimota mentions worked for me, too. The various anxiety-handling tricks certainly seem like they'd be worth a go, and getting my anxieties on paper where they stop spinning in my head is one that works for me.
posted by Lady Li at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2010

The same thing happens to me occasionally. It's mysterious because I would generally categorize myself as a very happy person, although I do get anxious about things like my parents' health. It is so pronounced when it happens that I sometimes start sobbing with utter misery (and I'm not generally a crier) and a very strong feeling that all is very wrong in the world. I guses it's fair to say that I am a worrier, though, and that I have a very high stress job, and although the pure misery feels very real at the time, I think it may just be a weird stress/anxiety attack that doesn't actually mean that the world is ending.

I wake with a jerk of panic to be sure, but what I care about more is the deep, powerful sadnses I feel for a few minutes (half hour?) afterwards. And then I go back to being what I consider a very happy person.

Here's a blog entry about anxiety and hypnic jerk and offers some treatment.

And previously. And previously.
posted by n'muakolo at 2:11 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi all, not hypnic jerk. I get that occasionally. More like the feeling I am about to be eaten by a large bear or have a car crash. My legs get tingly (not restless leg syndrome and not pins and needles.)
posted by fifilaru at 4:02 PM on July 30, 2010

If what you mean is a sudden feeling that you're falling, then I have this too, have had it throughout my life, though it is becoming rarer and rarer as I get older. I think it has to do with the nerves of the body parts that are in contact with the mattress entering 'sleep-mode' slightly ahead of the rest of your system. So for a moment, there's no feedback from the surface nerves that there is indeed a surface under them supporting them (because the nerves have gone off to zzz land), but you're brain, slightly behind and still awake, receives the zero input from them and panics: I'm falling!
posted by Paquda at 8:36 PM on July 30, 2010

Sounds like a flight or fight response as soon as you are about to fall asleep. Almost like you have trouble letting go of the real world, like you have a task or something that needs to be accomplished before you can sleep.

I used to have these but it was due to anxiety/panic associated with napping. Just as I was about to fall asleep I would suddenly joint back up, feel like there was a terror waiting around the corner, and be reluctant to go back to sleep. Gosh I was tired for that whole ordeal.

The feeling (and anxiety/panic) finally went away once I decreased my stress levels, exercised, and ate better. Exercise particularly helped, but it took awhile.
posted by Takeyourtime at 11:08 PM on July 30, 2010

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