Panic attacks, a type of anxiety disorder, involve episodes of extreme anxiety or terror out of proportion to any actual threat. They can come on without warning, in response to mild stressors or even while you sleep, and they can have intense physical symptoms such as trembling, nausea, racing heart rate, dizziness, sweating, cramps, chest pain or a choking feeling. Although several things can cause panic attacks, good-quality sleep and nutrition may help you avoid future episodes.
Sleep and Panic Attacks
Researchers now believe that a frequent symptom of panic and anxiety disorders -- insufficient or poor-quality sleep -- may also contribute to their formation. The National Sleep Foundation reports that those with persistent insomnia have a significantly increased risk of psychiatric disorders like anxiety. Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine describes studies in which subjects who slept only four hours a night showed symptoms of stress, anger, sadness and reduced optimism.
Inadequate levels of the B vitamins, especially B12, B6 and folate, may play a role in mental disorders. Vitamin B6 helps produce neurotransmitters and the mood-regulating hormones serotonin and norepinephrine. "Psychology Today" reports that in a recent Finnish study, vitamin B12 proved effective in the treatment of depression. Folate works with B6 and B12 to create dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Your body does not store folate, so you must consistently eat folate-rich foods or take a supplement. B vitamin deficiency can cause symptoms from irritability to paranoia, all of which can make you more vulnerable to anxiety and panic disorders.
Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium supports the health and resiliency of the brain and central nervous system. A deficiency of this essential nutrient may cause symptoms of an anxiety or panic disorder. Your parathyroid gland regulates the amount of calcium in your body, but you should support its function by making sure you have adequate dietary or supplementary calcium. Magnesium deficiency can also contribute to neurological dysfunction, causing feelings of irritability, anxiety and depression. A 2006 study showed that magnesium supplementation improved symptoms of depression in magnesium-deficient individuals.
If you have panic attacks, you should seek treatment from a doctor or psychiatrist. Talk with your doctor about supporting your treatment with supplementation. Because recommendations vary depending on your age, sex, health and other factors like pregnancy, lactation or medications, let your doctor choose the right dose for you. Supplementation might include the adult daily recommendation of 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 along with 2.4 micrograms of B12, 400 micrograms of folate, 1,000 milligrams of calcium and between 270 and 400 daily milligrams of magnesium.
Diet and Lifestyle
A diet rich in dark leafy greens, oily fish, lean protein, whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables helps you maintain balanced nutrition. To support healthy sleep, turn off your television and computer at least one hour before bed, and keep your bedroom dark, quiet and reserved for sleep. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, since they can disrupt sleep patterns. If sleep problems continue, see your doctor for other options.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Panic Disorder
- National Sleep Foundation: Sleep Hygiene, Insomnia and Mental Health
- Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine: Sleep and Disease Risk
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Magnesium
- “Med Hypot”; Recovery from Depression Using Magnesium Treatment; George Eby et al.; 2006
- “Psychology Today”; Be Healthy With B12; Willow Lawson; 2004
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: B6
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: B12
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate