You are lying down to go to sleep. Things are progressing well. You close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. You try to think of happy things instead of the stressful things that you need to take care of tomorrow. After a few minutes, you’re just about to slip off into happytime dreamland and BAM. Suddenly your whole body jolts for no reason. Well that was weird. Why did that happen? You start scanning your body for signs of trouble, because that’s too weird to ignore. Sure enough, there’s some weird shit going on. You notice your heart feels like it’s beating faster and faster. Uh oh. But wait, now it skipped a beat. Oh god… Now your breathing is starting to catch up with your heart, but no matter how hard your breathe, you can’t seem to get enough oxygen. Your fingers and toes feel tingly and you are getting weird random pains. Putting two and two together you think that it has got to be a heart attack, right? Hurry, take an aspirin and call 911! Whoa whoa whoa… slow down. You aren’t dying. You also aren’t the only one who has gone through this sort of progression before.
THERE’S A NAME FOR IT
Technically what you are experiencing is called “misattribution of interoceptive cues” and it’s not something that only happens during sleep. That’s a bunch of psychobabble mumbo jumbo B.S., so let me break that down for you piece by piece. Interoceptive means that it’s a physical sensation within your body. Cues imply that they clue you in to something else going on. Put them both together and you have particular physical sensations in your body that tell you what is happening. Or at least they are supposed to. When we know what to make of interoceptive cues, the process is easy. When you look too close to the sun and you get those prickly tingling feelings in your nose, you know that a sneeze is coming. When you aren’t sure what to make of them or they feel similar to cues that imply scary shit like heart attacks, you run into trouble. If you aren’t actually having a cardiac event, that’s what we call misattribution.
This is a big contributor to anxiety and panic attacks for many people. If you live with anxiety, it’s in your nature to get “in your head” and turn little deals into huge catastrophes. The bitch about it is that even if you were wrong about whatever crazy health concerns you concocted in that brain of yours, getting so worked up about it can still throw you into a panic attack that sucks majorly in its own right.