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Strange difficulty in falling asleep

Hello all - thanks in advance for any tips which you might be able to share to help me understand what's happening when I try to fall asleep at night. I'm a 25-year-old female, non-smoker, underweight (but finally gaining weight for the first time in years), otherwise in good health, and under moderate stress. Almost every night, when I try to sleep, I experience a number of strange sensations just before dropping off. These sensations cause me to wake up, at least partially, before reentering a drowsy state, getting to the verge of sleep, and then jolting awake again. It happens 2-4 times every night, before I finally fall asleep.

The primary sensation is one of losing feeling in my body. Just before I fall deeply asleep, I feel like my breathing and my heartbeat both stop, and it creates a brief moment of panic which wakes me up -- but I'm never completely awake. I am sometimes aware of making a moaning sound, or of sharply drawing in my breath, or of moving my limbs to restore "life" to my body. On many occasions, I have opened my eyes to look around (sometimes sitting up in the process) and then changed my position in the bed before starting to fall asleep again. On one occasion, my feeling of panic caused me to turn on my bedside lamp and sit straight up for a few minutes, eyes open and consciously thinking about what had just happened. I can't remember lying back down or going to sleep after that happened, but I woke up in the morning with the light still on. (I am a deep sleeper who has difficulty waking up when the alarm clock goes off, and I have been known to press "snooze" for two hours or longer without remembering a thing.)

I've always been very aware of my heartbeat, especially in my upper abdominal region, due to my low body weight. The sensation of my heart shutting down has actually happened to me during the daytime on a few recent occasions -- almost always when I'm tired, such as at the end of a busy work day -- and I suspect that my mind might be having a hard time adjusting to the recent modest weight gain which has given me a bit more "insulation" against feeling my heartbeat. Obviously my heart isn't really stopping -- I have a pulse! -- but it's almost like my conscious mind is having to work harder to pick up the vibrations and is starting to tune them out, if that makes any sense.

Also, on occasions when I have shared a bed or a room with a friend or family member, such as when staying in a hotel, I have been told that I sometimes sit up and gasp or cough before lying back down. I usually have no recollection of these incidents. When I was a young teenager, I would wake up completely breathless and wheeze and struggle for breath for a full 15 seconds or longer, sometimes making it down the hall into my parents' bedroom in a state of panic before finally regaining the ability to breathe normally. At the time I was diagnosed with an allergy and put on Zyrtec and instructed to use a hypoallergic air-conditioning filter, which stopped the frightening incidents. I accepted the allergy diagnosis when the symptoms went away, and have never been tested for a sleep disorder -- but obviously I'm still gasping and "choking," as people are reporting it to me. I also experience occasional episodes of full-fledged sleep paralysis, especially when waking from a nap or an interrupted night's sleep. I never have any terrors or hallucinations during the episodes, but they are very unpleasant, and during the episodes I also feel like my body is "numb" and not producing any vital signs.

Could this be sleep apnea? Anxiety? Asthma? Perhaps some combination of the above? Or something else altogether? I will, of course, be paying a visit to my doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist if the problem persists, but it would be helpful to know what the possibilities could be, or if anyone else has had similar problems and found a solution. It's worth noting that I slept with my head elevated on an extra pillow the other night, and I can't remember any symptoms taking place that night, but this possible solution gave me such a stiff neck the following morning that I haven't repeated it.)

Thanks again,

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replied November 20th, 2010
Very similar symptoms here. When I am at the brink of loosing consciousness and falling asleep I feel like loosing control over my body, mainly my breathing and "thinking" which initiates a sort of "panic attack". The I struggle to get up and regain control. You seem to be the first person to have similar symptoms
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