This study examined the role of presleep attributions about physiological events during sleep in nocturnal panic attacks. Patients who regularly experienced nocturnal panic were physiologically monitored as audio signals were presented during sleep. They were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 conditions: expected, in which signals of intense physiological changes were expected; unexpected, in which signals of intense physiological changes were not expected; or control, involving distinctly different signals unrelated to physiological responses. The unexpected condition led to substantially more self-reported distress and panic attacks. The experimental conditions did not elicit different autonomic reactions, but those who panicked showed stronger physiological responses than those who did not panic. The findings are consistent with a cognitive model of nocturnal panic attacks.
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