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For most of us, going to bed at night is a reward. We get to crawl under the covers, relax, and enjoy several hours of peaceful, uninterrupted shuteye.
But for those who have somnophobia, or fear of sleep, the idea of falling asleep is terrifying.
They may worry that they’ll lose control of their body or speech, have horrific nightmares, or even that they’ll go to bed and never wake up again.
While some of these worries have no grounds in logic, others are genuine fears that carry a significant risk. And worse, if people are too scared to get their nightly dose of zzz’s, they’ll experience other health challenges as well since sleeping is necessary for both physical and mental well-being.
If you’re experiencing this condition, follow our tips to on how to overcome sleep dread.
What is Sleep Dread?
Put simply, sleep dread is the fear of falling asleep. Other names for it include somniphobia, hypnophobia, sleep phobia, and sleep anxiety.
Because of the fear and anxiety associated with falling asleep, the person suffering from it may find that they’re unable to fall asleep, despite being exhausted. And when the sufferer does happen to fall unconscious, their rest is often fitful, low-quality, and frequently interrupted.
People with this condition often have an abundance of stress hormones like cortisol in their system, which further acts to keep them wired and awake.
What Causes Sleep Phobia?
Most of us experience nightmares on occasion. But for some people, bad dreams occur every time they go to bed. When someone has somniphobia, they’ll often report that their nightmares are so disturbing and realistic that they don’t want to go to bed for fear of reliving those visions.
Those suffering from anxiety disorders may also have this type of phobia. They might have trouble falling asleep, and they often have nightmares when they finally do get some rest. They could fear a lack of being in control when they’re unconscious and think something terrible could happen to them.
Some cultures even believe that the body could be possessed by demons or spirits.
The thought of sleepwalking is scary for nearly everyone. Not only is it potentially embarrassing, but it could be dangerous. There are countless stories of people falling or harming others in this unconscious state. If someone has had a close call with danger or death when sleepwalking, it’s only natural that might be afraid of that happening again.
Fear of Death
Have you ever thought that you might go to bed and never wake up? Though it seems morbid and unlikely, this idea often dominates the minds of those with somniphobia.
When we sleep, our brain shuts down much of our body movements. When we become conscious again, the ability to move is thankfully restored. However, for some people, they find that if they wake in the middle of the night or in the morning, they’re unable to move. Their brain is awake, but their body is still sleeping.
As you can imagine, this could make someone fear the idea of going to bed at night.
Most people speak nonsense and gibberish when they talk during the night. However, if you’re harboring a secret or feel worried about what you might say when you’re unconscious, it may lead to a phobia.
A scary movie may make you feel nervous about going to bed. What if a burglar, ghost or some other sinister creature enters your home and harms you? Even though we all know movies are make-believe, some of them are so well done that they’ll make you think twice about your safety.
Some report that they’re increasingly afraid of sleeping after a traumatic incident like the death of a loved one, a physical attack or any other type of experience that results in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Fear of Sleep Symptoms
If you’re not getting enough shuteye at night, you’ll most certainly be tired during the day. Daytime drowsiness is common in those with a sleep-related phobia.
The longer you suffer from this phobia, the more likely you are to also suffer from chronic fatigue. Because the sleep debt has become so severe, the entire circadian rhythm is thrown off balance, which also affects hormones and all sorts of bodily functions.
People with this condition are sleep-deprived, and this causes both irritability and moodiness. When the body doesn’t get enough rest, the parasympathetic, or “fight-or-flight,” mechanism goes into full effect. The result in the short-term is a temporary mood disorder. When left untreated or if the person’s lifestyle doesn’t change, the mood disorder could become chronic.
Not getting enough rest due to this type of disorder affects cognitive abilities, including memory loss. During periods of rest, the brain uses this downtime to learn, process information, and consolidate memories. When deprived of these hours, the brain’s ability to hang on to memories becomes compromised.
Tips for Managing Sleep Anxiety
Change Your Perspective
The mind is powerful, and by changing your perspective or mindset, change is possible. If you’re worried about what will happen to you when you’re unconscious, remind yourself that nothing truly terrible will occur if you’ve taken proper precautions. Tell yourself it’s okay to have a bad night or two, and that whatever interruptions you face during the night, you’ll be able to handle.
By acknowledging that your bedtime could be interrupted, and even expecting it, the brain begins to relax and allows you to get the rest you need.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Proper sleep hygiene is usually the first place to start when treating a disorder. This practice involves going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, keeping your bedroom dark, and avoiding naps after lunch.
Having a nighttime routine can help signal your body that it’s time for bed. Try something relaxing and structured, like having a cup of hot, herbal tea each night, reading pages from a boring book, or doing a facial cleansing routine. By doing the same thing each evening right before bed, you’ll eventually train yourself to fall asleep almost automatically.
Sometimes an objective party with medical training is the best choice. A trained doctor or specialist may be able to diagnose your problem and recommend a course of treatment relatively quickly. It might involve cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, or even rehearsal therapy.
Rehearsal therapy is an interesting technique that’s used on people who have nightmares. The patient writes and rehearses a new version of their nightmare during the day so they can regain control and conquer their fears.
Let Go of the Routine
Remember when we said to develop a nightly routine to help you fall asleep? We still recommend it, but we should caution against the use of unhealthy habits to encourage drowsiness. For example, alcohol or sleeping pills may help you get through a night or two but shouldn’t become a habit (if you are addicted here are the tips to get off the pills).
Let Go of the Worries
It’s no easy task to let go of your worries, especially if they’re pressing or significant. However, there are things you can do to help ease them. Practicing mindfulness exercises like deep breathing and meditation are extremely helpful.
One thing to keep in mind: there’s not much you can do about your worries from the bedroom. It might be tempting to stay awake and stew over every possible scenario, but that’s not productive. Instead, remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll have a fresh and creative perspective after a full night of rejuvenating rest.
Welcome Your Fears
In some horror movies, the hero of the story defeats the monster by confronting it head-on and denouncing all fear. You could experience the same outcome by facing, and even welcoming, your fears. Go ahead and acknowledge them. You may even want to say them aloud.
Though it seems far-fetched, don’t discount it until you try it. By giving a voice to what’s troubling you, you may find that when you hear it, doesn’t sound so awful after all. Another possibility is that by speaking the words, your brain is able to let go of the fear and allow you to fall asleep.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can sleep phobia be linked to insomnia?
Yes, these two conditions are closely linked. Someone with insomnia may not have a sleep phobia; however, someone that does have this phobia is almost certainly suffering from insomnia because they’re scared to fall asleep.
Why am I scared to sleep alone?
Being afraid of sleeping alone could be caused by a variety of factors. Here are the most common:
- You’re worried that if you choke or experience a medical symptom while you’re sleeping, there won’t be anyone there to help you.
- If someone breaks into your home, there’s no one to alert or defend you.
- If you are a sleepwalker, you might be concerned about injuring yourself or leaving your home and hurting others.
- There’s also the sad and overly depressing thought that when you fall asleep alone, you’ll also wake up alone, and maybe you’re afraid of being alone your entire life.
This got really dark, didn’t it?
Is it common in adults?
Fortunately, this condition is rare in adults, though it does affect more women than men. It can be seen in children, too, but they’ll usually outgrow it, either with the help of their parents or a behavioral specialist.
Sleep is a funny thing, isn’t it? We need it to survive, but it is a time when we are at our most vulnerable. Fortunately, the risk of dying in one’s sleep is low for people with decent overall health. Plus, most of the causes of anxiety are treatable with simple shifts in mindset or routine.
The most severe cases might require the help of an expert, but again, there are plenty of professionals who can assist with talk therapy, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy or gradual desensitization.