Feels Like My Heart Stops, I Jolt Awake. Extremely Terrifying


Over the past few years, this weird occurrence has happened to me occasionally.

When I am laying in bed, I close my eyes and try to fall asleep. I get this weird feeling like my heart is stopping or has stopped for a second, and I jolt awake and my heart starts racing. This consistently happens every minute for about 2-3 hours before I eventually pass out. It is extremely terrifying.

Over the past few years, its only happened a few times, but in the past 2 weeks it has been happening every night. I feel like I'mg going to die or have a heart attack, and I am terrified now of falling asleep and dying.

I don't know if this is a common symptom of PTSD and anxiety (I am graduating college with my bachelors degree in two weeks, and am under a lot of stress), or if I actually have a heart problem (I had a full check up & blood test Feb 2012 and everything was normal except I have low calcium).

Id like to know if this happens to other people, and what it is exactly, and how to get rid of it. I haven't gotten a good nights sleep in a while and I feel like a zombie. Please help.


New Here
Hi there,

Unfortunately, I also have weird sleeping things like this. I don't really feel like I'm having a heart attack, but I will abruptly feel like I'm choking and I can't breathe and I'll wake up gasping for air--sitting straight up in bed hyperventilating. If you were checked for a heart problem, than it's probably not that.

I know in my case I think it is linked with PTSD. I wake up sometimes multiple times in a night like this and I'm sleeping horribly also. I dont know exactly what to do about it other than keep working through things to try to improve it though.

One thing I have been doing that has been helping some is listening to a relaxation track on my ipod when I wake up abruptly. This helps me calm down to go back to sleep. I don't know if you might want to try that. Also I'm trying to keep the room cool so it doesn't feel hot and suffocating and that seems to help a little bit too.

Let me know if you've come up with any other ways of dealing with this.


New Here
((SadDreamer)) I have the same weird occurence happen whenever I try to fall asleep without the help of sleeping pills... The exact symtoms you feel are exactly what I go through.

My opinion is that you have sleep anxiety, and every time you close your eyes and try to sleep, your body's sympathetic nervous system kicks on, hence the racing heart and jolting awake. Relaxation CD's would be good, because it disctracts and soothes your mind while trying to move into an unconscious state.

Have you tried anything else for it? Best of luck!!


I am not sure if this will be helpful or not. I have sleep apnea. I got that years ago when all of the memories of my trauma were safely in storage in my mind and my life was normal so I don't think it has anything to do with my PTSD which is relatively new.

With sleep apnea the airways collapse when you start to fall asleep and your throat muscle relax. The brain makes you wake up, not enough to notice you are awake, but enough to get air flowing again. Most people experience daytime drowsiness as their number one symptom resulting from being nudged awake and reminded to breath over and over all night long.

I, however, experienced what I thought were panic attacks. I would wake up startled and in a panic and scared and wondering what the heck was wrong. Next I would realize I had to urinate really badly... so badly I was in pain as my bladder was so full. I would rush to the bathroom to relieve that part and I would start shivering... just shaking... teeth chattering... freezing to death. I would hurry back to bed, cover up with ALL the blankets I could find to trying to get warm.. still shivering and chattering. Then I would realize I was gasping for air. I would breathe in so hard and my chest would just ache for air.

The sleep doctor explained to me that long periods of apnea (no oxygen to the brain) causes all the symptoms just like a person is drowning. The airway collapses and no air is flowing into the lungs so no oxygen to the brain. Brain attempts to wake you up, usually successfully... but suppose you don't wake up and the lack of oxygen continues. The body goes into survival mode.

Your heart rate increases in an attempt to pump more blood carrying oxygen to the brain. The blood isn't well oxygenated because you aren't breathing so the body takes the next step and tries constricting the capillaries in the extremities in an attempt to get more blood and hopefully some with oxygen to the brain. (that is why I was feeling like I was freezing and the reason for the shivering and teeth chattering... no warm blood in my extremities.)

The result of all that is that now you have all this blood volume that used to be out in your arms and legs being forced back to the core of the body. Your heart is beating much faster. The blood pressure is high because you have much more blood surging through the vessels in the core. You have now a whole lot of blood being returned to the heart, compared to the amount that was trying to return just 5 minutes before. That is the same thing that happens during congestive heart failure, the heart can't pump as much blood as is being returned to it and it starts backing up. When that happens the kidneys release a hormone called renin that kicks them into high gear making urine as fast as they can to try to get rid of the extra fluid volume that is congesting the heart. (painfully full bladder and urgent need to urinate).

I started using a CPAP machine at night to keep my airways open and solved that problem. I know most of the explanations on this site are about insomnia from PTSD... just tossing out the possibility that there could be other reasons for feeling like you haven't slept and for night terrors and panic. Just saying.


I have had palpitations for the last 5 years- before I knew I had PTSD. I had several EKGs, 2 echocardiograms and wore a holter monitor for a month. Everything was great! So the conclusion is it that its anxiety related. So far, in my experience from treatment to this point:

It feels worse, but it's actually getting better. Your awareness and willingness to tackle your trauma is UP and that's probably what you are going through right now. But its also what is showing signs of PROGRESS. This is scary- but it's also GOOD! Just take special time for you. I have a bath ritual that I do every night, where I square away time to soak and read a book or listen to music and that is extremely helpful believe it or not. Give it a go! Make your bathroom a spa haven to unwind at the end of the night and you'd be surprised what that does for your heart!

I would never rule out an ECG to cross T's and dot I's; but I have been told that this is harmless, and there are no long term side effects or things to worry about because of this. This is part of that "hypervigilence" in PTSD they keep talking about... I"m a freak out- so I've scrutinized everything making sure my heart is fine.

I hope this helps some!


New Here
Miss Mary,

Your words were so calming! Such encouragement. I reaaaaaaaaaaaaally like the idea that it shows signs of progress. Progress, progress, my new favorite word.

May I ask what makes you think it is a sign of progress? Do you have any proof or experience? I went through this last time I came off my meds, and now that I'm off again, it is gradually coming back.


In my case, my trauma was repressed. I have been carrying the responsibility to hold it together and get ahead all-the-while ignoring my feelings and not dealing with my reality. I was in fight-or-flight mode for the majority of my life.

Eventually, it takes its toll and decides that it's not going to sit idle any longer. Think about how when your body goes into starvation mode, it just guzzles up everything in sight in order to prepare and store... Well, the hypervigillance (fight-or-flight) and repression of the emotions builds to a point that your body just can't deal like that anymore and begins to give you physical symptoms.

In my case, it is fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, moodiness, bad periods, stomach aches, so on and so forth. None of these physical symptoms have a physical answer to explain it. My body has had enough and is ready to begin to heal and cope with it all. That's PROGRESS. That means you are actually facing your issues and need to- your body is screaming for it.You are finally in a place to relax and cope so your body has decided to make you see that.

My T tells me that I'm experiencing things often for the first time, and there's a reason I didn't want to deal in the first place. It's A LOT to handle... But the fact that I want to know what's wrong and why my body is doing these things, and all the physical possibilities have been checked and crossed off let me know that I've got some emotional shit to deal with. And I will. I am. That's the biggest step in all of this, and the scariest.

It is so common for people with this disorder to experience these physical symptoms. I still suggest crossing T's and dotting I's, but relax and know that you are having a NORMAL response to something ABNORMAL. And you can recover.

We are doing this together, ;)


One thing I would like to mention is perhaps a drop in blood sugar. May I recommend eating a tablespoon of peanut butter before bed (assuming you are not allergic) to see if it helps. A lot of us have adrenal issues, and for me, some of this is caused by blood sugar issues which causes these jolts.

Try it out. No harm.


New Here
I feel like my heart stops every so often I'm currently waiting for a heart monitor from the hospital been to see my doctor and been told I've got sleep apnea.

I can be doing anything when I feel my heart stop and when I come to my heart's racing and I need to use a spray to help me calm down. It eases the whole thing but over the last 3 weeks it has happened numerous times. I have 3 children and I'm worried that one day I might not wake up.

Would love any help towards what I have!


Most people experience daytime drowsiness as their number one symptom resulting from being nudged awake and reminded to breath over and over all night long.

Yeah, it's bloody irritating, but I know why my other half does it for me!
Although sometimes I wonder if I'm annoying enough that one day he won't!