Previous investigations have suggested that hyperventilation is not a precursor to panic attacks but rather a characteristic feature of them. This led researchers to consider the idea that individuals with panic disorders might have a biological hypersensitivity to carbon dioxide (CO2). This notion is further supported by their tendency to sigh, attempting to maintain CO2 blood levels below the threshold that triggers panic attacks. To delve deeper into the connection between hyperventilation and panic attacks, a recent study looked into the respiratory patterns of individuals with panic disorders during sleep, comparing them to those of healthy subjects.
The findings of this study align with an earlier hypothesis put forth by Klein D.F., predicting that individuals with panic disorders would display irregular breathing not only during wakefulness but also during sleep. Indeed, the study reveals that a significant number of participants experiencing panic attacks exhibited more frequent brief micro-apneas, which are short pauses in breathing during sleep. Intriguingly, these episodes occurred at a time when anxiety is presumed to be at its lowest—during sleep.
To simplify, let’s break down the key points:
- Hyperventilation and Panic Attacks: Some people believed that hyperventilation might cause panic attacks, but evidence suggests it’s actually a feature of panic attacks.
- Biological Hypersensitivity to CO2: Individuals with panic disorders may have a heightened sensitivity to carbon dioxide. They often sigh to keep CO2 levels in their blood below the threshold that triggers panic attacks.
- Micro-apneas During Sleep: The research found that many panic participants experienced brief pauses in breathing (micro-apneas) during sleep. Interestingly, these episodes occurred when anxiety levels are assumed to be lowest—during sleep.
In essence, this study delves into the breathing patterns of individuals with panic disorders, shedding light on how their respiration behaves during sleep. This information contributes to our understanding of the complex relationship between breathing irregularities and panic attacks.
Stein, M. B., Millar, T. W., Larsen, D. K., & Kryger, M. H. (1995). Irregular breathing during sleep in patients with panic disorder. Am J Psychiatry, 152(8), 1168-1173. doi:10.1176/ajp.152.8.1168