Most people enjoy going to bed, cuddling up with a book to read or watching a movie before drifting off into dreamland. However, for some people, even the thought of going to sleep is terrifying. They are afraid they may never wake up again, that they may have nightmares or that something awful might happen once they have lost control of their body.
This is known as somniphobia (the fear of sleeping.) It is a genuine condition that causes extreme fear and anxiety in those that suffer from it. It is also known as sleep dread, sleep anxiety, hypnophobia, and clinophobia. It is not only the fear itself that is the problem, but also the side-effects of not sleeping. Among these are anxiety, and the effect that the fear and loss of sleep can have on your mental health and daily life. Some sufferers spend almost the whole day worrying about the night to come.
So what are the symptoms of this condition and what can be done about it? Is there a cure or must you spend your whole life being afraid of going to sleep?
Overcoming Your Sleep Anxiety
Symptoms of Somniphobia
In many cases, somniphobia is more than just a fear of sleeping, but also a fear of never waking up or that something might happen while you are asleep. Some sufferers are afraid of having nightmares. Inside Bedroom offers advice on how to stop nightmares here. There are many potential side effects such as:
- Staying up as long as possible and deliberately avoiding going to bed.
- Being increasingly more afraid as bedtime approaches.
- Having a panic attack when it is time to go to bed, increasing in intensity the closer you may be to actually falling asleep.
- Generally becoming increasingly more agitated as bedtime approaches.
Those suffering from somniphobia are also likely to experience the side effects of the lack of sleep, such as:
- Irritability and tiredness throughout the day, the former increasing in intensity as the day progresses and bedtime come closer.
- Mood swings, again increasing in intensity as the day progresses.
- Deteriorating physical and/or emotional health.
- Forgetfulness: being unable to remember things.
- Increased heart rate as bedtime approaches.
- Anxiety-related nausea.
Children can also suffer from a fear of going to sleep. Being afraid to sleep can lead them to become very clingy at bedtime, crying and afraid of being left alone in bed or in their cot. They may also wake up frequently during the night.
Having somniphobia doesn’t mean that you can’t sleep, but that you are afraid of sleep. Those who suffer from this condition might want somebody else in the room, at least until they fall asleep. They may want the lights left on, or have the TV left on or some music. Anything to prevent silence and darkness! One undesirable result of this condition is that some people resort to alcohol to help them over their fear.
Causes of Being Afraid to Fall Asleep
We have explained what somniphobia is and outlined its symptoms and side effects. However, what causes the condition? Because it is largely mental, experts are unsure of the exact cause, but there are some other sleep disorders that could play a part in its development. Among the more common of these are:
Sleep Paralysis: This is a condition that occurs when you are in REM sleep and suddenly awake and are unable to move. Your muscles are paralyzed and you may also have hallucinations. This can be a very scary condition, and if you suffer from it regularly you may be afraid to go to sleep.
Nightmare Disorder: This is a sleep disorder where you have frequent distressing nightmares. They may be recurring, with roughly the same nightmare each time – or different ones. If you are afraid of these nightmares then it can lead to a fear of sleeping.
Sleep Apnea: Sleep Apnea is a disruption of breathing while you are sleeping, and those who suffer from it can have a fear of stopping breathing when they are asleep. There are several potential causes of sleep apnea, but the symptoms can lead to a fear of going to sleep in case they stop breathing and die. This condition is more common in men, particularly overweight men and also those over the age of 40.
It is possible for the symptoms of sleep apnea to be treated by means of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This helps maintain normal breathing while you sleep and helps you to avoid the more unpleasant symptoms of sleep apnea. In so doing, it may also help you to avoid the symptoms that lead to somniphobia.
How Can You Get Somniphobia Diagnosed?
It’s one thing being aware that somniphobia exists, but it’s quite another to have your condition diagnosed as such. Once it has been positively diagnosed, then you can start learning how to overcome the fear of going to sleep. A mental health professional will be aware of this condition and can provide you with a proper diagnosis and help you overcome it.
The following symptoms will help a professional reach the correct diagnosis:
- Your condition negatively affects the quality of your sleep.
- It makes you feel distressed and anxious as the sleeping time approaches.
- Sleep is no longer a pleasure, and you try to avoid going to sleep for as long as possible.
- The thought of sleep affects you emotionally and physically.
- Your sleep issue is affecting the way you work and your personal life.
- You have been feeling like this for a while.
Always answer truthfully to any question a health professional may ask you. Never answer what you think they want to hear – this won’t help you in any way at all! Answer truthfully and you will be given an accurate assessment of your condition. Your health professional will then be able to put you on the right road to recovery.
Resolving Your Fear of Going to Sleep
It is good practice to take certain actions to prevent you from feeling afraid of falling asleep. Before seeking professional medical help, here are some ways of helping yourself overcome your fear of going to sleep:
- Avoid caffeine or any other stimulant for 4-5 hours before bedtime.
- Do not nap – even if you feel you need a nap during the day. This can keep you awake to worry about sleeping.
- Although you may think that physical exercise may help you sleep, you should avoid exercise for at least 2 hours before bedtime.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep – and sex!
- Your bedroom should be kept cool and dark to avoid keeping your brain too active.
- Never rely on sleeping pills or any other pharmaceutical to help you sleep. This will only make your condition worse.
Ultimately, if you are unable to sleep, then try to avoid any stimulating activities. Don’t read an exciting book, or watch action TV. Some say that keeping a book by your bed that you find uninteresting or boring will help. Start reading this book and you may find it easier to fall asleep!
Somniphobia is a genuine ‘phobia’ and it is important that you can get cured of it. Taking pills may not be the best way for you. Some people take diazepam to help them relax and get to sleep, but you should never do this unless directed by your doctor. Addiction can be a more serious condition that sleeplessness or somniphobia. Here are some options open to you.
Develop Good Sleep Habits and Hygiene: Going to bed at the same time each night may help you to develop a good sleep routine. Avoid caffeine as we stated earlier. Keep your bedroom dark, and try a drink of herbal tea each night. Once you begin to sleep using your routine, you should find it easier every night. Your body will recognize the conditions suitable for sleep and might be trained to fall asleep when these conditions are met. Avoid alcohol and pills or you may become dependant on them.
Exposure Therapy: Failing this, try exposure therapy. You will need to find a therapist skilled in this form of treatment. They will discuss reasons for your fear of sleeping and then ways of overcoming it. One way of doing this involves you taking short naps with people you trust: your partner, parent or a friend to prove to you that you can wake up safely after sleeping without anything bad happening to you. Another option is to fall asleep in a sleep lab, and proving to yourself that you will wake up after sleeping.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy: With CBT, you will be helped to identify the fears that you have regarding sleep. Professionals will help you to meet these fears and ultimately overcome them. This may involve the concept of sleep itself or specific fears you have that create the anxiety that keeps you awake. A combination of CBT and exposure therapy would enable you to rationalize your fears and help you to overcome the fear of going to sleep.
Sleep Restriction: Sleep restriction involves going to bed at a specific time and getting up at specific times irrespective of whether you have slept, or how long you have slept for. Your body may develop sleep patterns that, when you combine it with cognitive behavior therapy, can help you overcome your somniphobia.
Medication: As we mentioned earlier, some drugs can help you overcome anxiety and even fear. While they may help you when used together with professional therapy, we do not recommend that you resort to drugs to help your fear of going to sleep. We certainly do not recommend addictive sedatives such as benzodiazepines for obvious reasons. Beta blockers should help reduce the symptoms of anxiety by helping maintain healthy blood pressure and a steady heart rate. Short-term sleeping pills might also be prescribed for you while you are in the early stages of recovering from somniphobia. Use these sparingly!
How to Overcome the Fear of Going to Sleep: Conclusion
We have explained that the best way how to overcome the fear of going to sleep is to understand your fear and what may be causing it. You can then work on understanding why you fear sleep and then undergo some form of professional therapy to overcome this fear. Somniphobia is fairly rare and can be overcome by facing your fears and taking steps to develop good sleep habits.
It is also important to understand why you have a fear of sleeping and learn how to adapt to a sensible sleep program that your mind and body understand. This program should enable you to sleep quickly without feeling the vulnerability you would normally feel when sleeping. A few periods of sleep, after which you awake to see that you are still alive and kicking, should rapidly show you that you need have no fear.
Understanding somniphobia will go a long way to curing you of it! Prove to yourself that your regular bedtime and sleep patterns enable you to sleep and waken up without anything bad happening. Then you will have overcome your fear of going to sleep at night.