- Somniphobia is a specific phobia of either falling asleep or staying asleep comfortably.
- The person suffers from intense and persistent fear that causes emotional discomfort.
- Somniphobia can also cause fear of going to bed or sleeping alone.
- The sleep-related worries are overwhelming that rob mental peace and happiness.
- Treatment for Somniphobia includes Cognitive behavior therapy and medication.
- Relaxation exercises coupled with mindfulness training can help to manage symptoms.
Sleep is an integral part of good physical and mental health. But there are many people who suffer from irrational fear and dread of falling asleep.
This anxiety disorder related to falling asleep even when the person is tired is known as Somniphobia.
This mental health problem causes excessive fear and anxiousness. The person fears that if they sleep, they may never wake up again.
Sometimes, the thought of falling asleep or going to bed alone can cause jitters down the spine.
The fear of falling asleep is a phobia because it is irrational and baseless.
The intense fear response is seen for harmless objects and issues that don’t cause any immediate threat to the person.
In this article, we will learn more about this anxiety and see how it impacts our daily life and living.
Somniphobia – definition, and meaning
Somniphobia is a kind of sleep dread that causes extreme fear of falling asleep or staying asleep for a long time. The person fears being dead or getting a sudden panic attack, etc. This type of fear response has other names such as hypnophobia, sleep anxiety, and clinophobia.
Somniphobia refers to a sleep disorder that comes from the discomfort one feels from sleeping alone. You can also consider it as the fear of falling into a deep sleep.
The word Somniphobia comes from the Latin word, ‘Somnus’, which means sleep, and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear.
All those who suffer from Somniphobia, explain it as an extreme level of anxiety that makes it tough to get sleep even when they are exhausted.
This fear of sleep is linked to the fear of the unknown. They become terrified thinking about what could happen if they fall asleep.
The fear comes out of the fact that they feel as if everyday life is out of their control. If something happens, they will not manage to tackle it.
Some of them become afraid of not getting to hear if their loved ones call out to them for some help.
Somniphobia is often associated with a disorder that results in adverse sleep experiences. They include night terrors, frequent nightmares, sleep paralysis, and parasomnias.
Symptoms of Somniphobia
The major symptoms of Somniphobia are dread, fear, or panic associated with what might happen when you fall asleep.
One with this problem usually tends to struggle with Insomnia, hence making it tough to get a restorative night’s rest.
People with Somniphobia often experience sleep issues out of fear, while in Insomnia, one tends to face trouble falling asleep.
Chronic insomnia occurs in about 12% of adults, at some point of time in their lives.
Anxiety and panic attacks happen to be the most common symptoms of this sleep phobia. Apart from these, there are several other symptoms that one might come across among the sufferers.
No two individuals can show similar Somniphobia symptoms. The severity of symptoms varies from one person to another, hence impacting their lifestyle accordingly.
The symptoms of Somniphobia occur in two forms. They are physical and mental symptoms.
The fear of sleep can become so intense that it can give rise to physical symptoms, showing further complications.
These symptoms can come in the way of their smooth running of daily activities.
Following are some of the physical symptoms of Somniphobia –
When you have Somniphobia, you tend to sweat profusely out of fear and panic.
If this intense sweating continues for some time, it might even lead to dehydration, which would require a sufficient intake of fluid for replenishing the loss of water from the body.
The intensity of this abnormal fear can go up to such an extent that it can result in irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations.
In this scenario, the heart might struggle to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body. The increased heart rate does not allow tissues and organs to receive enough oxygen.
Somniphobia does not allow you to have a peaceful sleep at night. As a result of this, you could feel lethargic and drowsy throughout the day.
You might not feel like doing any activity, hence hampering your work to a great extent.
There is always an urge to lie down on the bed, even in the daytime, in an attempt to get some sleep.
It is a common symptom that shows up when people suffer from any kind of phobia. The same applies to Somniphobia as well.
In this situation, a person feels as if he would lose his balance and faint.
Individuals think as if the whole environment around them is spinning, and they would soon lose their consciousness.
Shortness of Breath
When the fear of sleep takes over your whole system, you can have problems breathing freely.
In other words, you have shortness of breath and it occurs out of intense tightening of the chest. It seems to you that your throat is choking, hence making you feel suffocated.
This is again a common symptom of Somniphobia, which results from the fear and anxiety associated with the problem.
Anxiety happens to be a natural response to any danger or threat. It takes place when your brain releases neurotransmitters to prepare your body for showing resistance.
Few of these transmitters can enter the digestive tract and irritate the gut microbiome. This leads to several stomach symptoms, including nausea.
The psychological symptoms of Somniphobia can appear diversely. It can severely affect your thought process and make you think of events that may not have any relation to reality.
Let us now discuss some of the psychological symptoms and their impact on your daily life –
The dreadful feeling before going to bed
Somniphobia can give you a dreadful feeling before or when you try to fall asleep. This sleep dread comes out of the fear of if anything awry happens while being asleep.
You could also feel that you might pass away in your sleep. This fear of death can be a good enough reason to keep you awake at night.
Loss of Control
There is a natural tendency to feel as if you will not be in complete control of your surroundings while being in sleep.
If your parents become subject to some emergencies and they call you, you will not be able to attend to their calls and offer the necessary help.
You could also have some health problems, which can become severe from not getting intervention from your end.
Thinking about all these instances wherein you will not manage to be in complete control, results in your lack of sleep.
A Sense of Forthcoming Doom
Somniphobia or the irrational fear of sleep can make you feel as if you are about to face a dangerous and stressful situation in your life.
The feeling of disaster fills your mind, giving rise to negative thoughts. You always think that dangers are waiting to cause problems and alter the whole dynamics of life.
Avoid Sleep at all Costs
The fear and anxiety of sleep reach such a level that you do not feel like going to sleep at all. You find different ways to avoid sleep and stay awake.
There is a strange feeling that allows you to think that staying awake would help you face and overcome your problems better.
Intense Mood Swings
Stress and anxiety from this sleep phobia or Somniphobia can result in the occurrence of the circadian rhythm.
It leads to severe mood swings and other behavioral changes. You find it tough to regulate your emotions.
At some point in time, you could feel happy and upbeat. While at the very next moment, you can become angry and irritated.
Diagnosis of Somniphobia
If you feel you are suffering from Somniphobia, it is always ideal to get in touch with a mental health professional and discuss your problems.
In most cases, phobias are treatable and the recovery rate is also promising. Thus, there is no reason not to seek help at the right time.
They can use their skill and experience to diagnose accurately and offer their support throughout the process till you come out of this problem.
Normally, the diagnosis of phobias takes place if fears and anxiety cause a lot of difficulty and distress in your day-to-day life.
Specific phobias are diagnosed according to the guidelines of DSM – 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
If the fear response continues for a minimum timeline of 6 months or above, it can be considered a specific phobia.
You could get diagnosed with Somniphobia if the fear of sleep impacts your life in the following manner:
- Adversely affects your quality of sleep.
- Creates a negative impact on your mental and physical health.
- Results in sleep-related distress and anxiety on a persistent basis.
- Causes a lot of problems at school, workplace, or even in your personal life.
- If the problem has lasted for more than six months.
- Makes you avoid sleep as much as possible.
Risk factors of Somniphobia
People suffering from generalized anxiety and other specific phobias such as claustrophobia, cynophobia, genophobia, or Pyrophobia can have a lot of sleep issues attached to them.
These typical fear responses may lower a person’s ability to fall asleep in peace.
The moment they go to sleep, negative thoughts and feelings of terror start. A vicious cycle of negativity doesn’t allow them to relax and sleep in peace.
Thus, the typical risk factors of Somniphobia are:
- Other types of specific phobias
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Anticipatory anxiety
- Sleep Apnea
- Nighttime panic attacks
- History of trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Advanced age of the person
- The previous diagnosis of depression and substance abuse disorder
- Working in shift timings can cause sleep problems
- Life stress and financial crisis
- Chronic physical illnesses such as Cancer
- Familial connections with sleep disorders of some type
What causes Somniphobia?
People with a family history of sleep disorders have more chances of developing Somniphobia at some point in their lives.
Sleep anxiety is not as uncommon as it sounds.
The prevalence rates of illness show its common occurrences throughout the world. 50 – 70% of US adults suffer from sleep disorders of some kind.
Somniphobia is a specific phobia and what leads to this phobia is not clear.
However, the factors that tend to influence a person coming under the risk of developing it may be connected to learned experiences.
They include having either direct or indirect experience with any activity or object, genetics, or any trauma suffered earlier in life.
1. Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis
This happens when an individual temporarily becomes unable to move their limbs during Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep.
Sleep continues for a brief period when the person wakes up. It can cause a significant amount of distress and cause fear of sleep or Somniphobia.
This is one of the major reasons behind fear of sleep.
Most sleepwalkers do something that does not cause them any kind of harm. Still, they become afraid that it occurs, hence refraining from going off to sleep.
3. Nightmare disorder
In this condition, sleepers experience anxiety out of nightmares regularly, hence disrupting their sleep.
It is quite common for people to suffer from this disorder, resulting in this abnormal fear of sleep.
Nightmare disorder can give rise to several other mental health problems, which also do not allow you to have sound sleep.
4. Talk during sleep
Some people tend to talk while sleeping. Those who have the problem of Somniphobia feel vulnerable during sleep and feel that death and sleep are similar conditions.
They become quite unsettling for every individual, hence leaving them totally out of control. You fear that this habit can make out spell secrets in front of others.
5. Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a condition in which a person after he wakes up tends to experience muscular paralysis.
One can face this problem quite frequently, which could result in them becoming afraid of sleeping.
6. Post-traumatic stress disorder
When you have experienced trauma earlier in your life, associated with sleep disturbances, one of them is fear of sleep or Somniphobia.
The fear can come through from having nightmares linked with trauma. It commonly happens to those who suffer from PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Impact of fear of sleep or Somniphobia
The distress related to falling asleep can make matters complicated. It can result in sleep anxiety that can reinforce the sense of dreadfulness and preoccupation of an individual.
The negative thoughts of going to bed at night are a kind of anticipatory anxiety. It can create several challenges to healthy routines and sleep schedules.
Following are the impact of fear of sleep:
- People may suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety. They might find it tough getting back to sleep if their mind keeps worrying about nightmares, death, and other dreadful things.
- They suffer from sleep fragmentation, which reduces both the quality and amount of their sleep.
- Insufficient sleep can lead to several health problems including, diabetes, high blood pressure, risk of heart attack, or even stroke.
- Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can make anxiety disorders worse.
- When you are unable to sleep because of fear, it can adversely affect your emotional health and overall mood. They can further increase the challenges posed by anxiety disorders.
- Fear of sleep can even result in depression. You will not feel like doing anything in life but only worry about your future. These thoughts will further increase your anxiety.
- People might even suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It is a sleep disorder that causes frequent breathing troubles along with interruptions in sleep.
These individuals are more prone to have mental health issues, including panic disorder, anxiety, and depression.
- You can also refrain from watching horror movies at night before going off to sleep because it may increase feelings of terror.
- Poor work performance.
- Extreme tiredness during the day.
- Poor concentration.
- Lack of problem-solving skills.
- Unhappy sex life and poor relationships with family and friends
- Mood changes and behavioral irritation.
Types of fear of sleep
We have already discussed various aspects related to Somniphobia. Now, people can suffer from different types of fear of sleep.
Let us discuss them in brief –
Fear of dying in sleep
Your inability to sleep can come through from an underlying health condition, which carries the risk of death. You may fear sleep because you may think that sleeping can lead to death and you’ll never wake up again.
This can make you suffer from the fear of dying in sleep, and hence avoid sleeping altogether.
You always feel as if you will pass away in your sleep. Probably, you had seen a family member die in sleep, and since that incident, this fear keeps playing on your mind.
Fear of falling asleep
Another type of Somniphobia is when you have the fear of falling asleep.
In this scenario, you fear not being able to stay in control of your life. You feel that if anything goes wrong during that phase, you will not be in a position to fight or seek help from other people.
You also feel that you will not manage to make the best use of what life has on offer if you fall asleep.
Fear of sleeping alone
When you suffer from this fear of sleeping alone, it can easily trigger several issues including panic attacks, insomnia, and excessive worrying.
This fear can be traced back to some trauma that you had encountered in your childhood. You can even anticipate medical emergencies, theft, or phobias linked with insects.
The fear of sleeping alone can also arise from an underlying disorder namely, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In this case, you can only sleep alone if your mother wishes you a good night before going off to bed.
How to overcome Somniphobia? (Self-help tips)
The problem of Somniphobia can be quite distressing for individuals.
There are medicines and therapies that we have already discussed earlier in this article, which can help get rid of this issue.
You can also overcome Somniphobia if you make some effort to bring about changes in your life.
It can prevent you from going over to consult mental health professionals, hence saving your time and money.
Let us look at some of the self-help tips, which you can follow and get excellent results in tackling this sleep phobia –
1. Maintain Consistency
Consistency is a critical part that ensures good sleep hygiene. When you follow a proper schedule, it enables your body to follow a natural clock.
All those who go to sleep at the same time every night tend to fall asleep faster.
Hence, try to fix a time and make sure you go to bed at that time. It can go a long way toward eliminating the problem of Somniphobia.
2. Follow a Bedtime Schedule
Try to wind down all your activities at least one hour before going to bed. Turn off the electronic items.
Follow a plain and simple bedtime routine each night like washing your face, brushing your teeth, and reading your favorite novel for half an hour.
It helps you keep your mind cool and relaxed, hence enabling you to get a sound sleep.
3. Regular Exercise
A study shows that doing moderate exercise for at least half an hour every day promotes good sleep.
It allows the rejuvenation of your brain and body, hence improving their functioning throughout the day.
Try to avoid doing any kind of workout, when you are close to bedtime. It can overstimulate you.
4. Shorten your naps at other times of the day
It is best to avoid taking long naps during the day. Take them for a short term. Ensure not to have naps within 6 hours of bedtime.
They would enable you to have a good sound sleep at night.
Avoid taking afternoon naps as well, so that when the bedtime gets nearer, you are enough tired to fall asleep without any fear.
5. Reduce the Intake of caffeine
Caffeine is a psychotropic substance that affects the mental state of an individual by impacting the way the brain and nervous system work.
Consuming caffeine can increase anxiety levels and interrupt circadian rhythms. One can easily measure the effects of caffeine when you consider that its half-life ranges between 4 to 6 hours.
This is a clear indication that if you have a cup of coffee at 4 pm, you can feel chronic fatigue and struggle for calmness till 9 pm.
Automatically; you will find it tough to sleep peacefully after going to bed.
Hence, avoiding caffeine is the best way to relax your mind and have a good night’s sleep.
6. Look to meditate as an alternative way to calm down
Practicing the art of meditation can help promote sound sleep.
Consider making use of an app dedicated to meditation, which carries tips, and how-to guides, and ensure you implement them in your life for the best results.
You can even apply the simpler approach. Just close your eyes and do deep breathing.
Treatment of Somniphobia
Some people can easily avoid any situation or object for some time that triggers fear in their mind, but it is not true in the case of sleep.
Sufficient sleep is essential for keeping your physical and mental health in proper condition.
For all those who have distress and hurt their regular functioning out of the fear of sleep, you can explore some effective treatment options.
Some options may not be used in combination with another, including therapy and prescription medication. It mainly depends on the factors connected with an individual’s fear of sleep.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves recognizing, exploring, and challenging the thoughts and behavioral patterns of a person.
Trying to recognize the thoughts related to an individual’s fear of sleep, after consulting with a mental health expert can be quite helpful.
The health professional also considers a specific Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. It is a therapy based on the proof for addressing the problem of sleep quality.
Apart from challenging the behaviors and thoughts of an individual that adversely affect sleep, this method takes into consideration stimulus control.
Also, it gives proper education on sleep hygiene and relaxation and some sleep-restriction strategies.
Research conducted on people with PTSD making use of CBT-I found out that participants had experienced a considerable reduction in the fear of sleep.
It automatically enhanced both the quantity and quality of sleep.
2. Exposure, Relaxation, and Re-scripting Therapy
In this type of therapy, the treatment involves multiple sessions, helping out people who experience chronic nightmares confront those frightening scenes.
The first part of this treatment procedure, i.e., exposure is done.
Next, the professional makes them practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, and engage themselves in different ways to describe their nightmares.
It includes describing in terms core themes surrounding intimacy, power, trust, control, and self-esteem or re-scripting.
ERRT has shown effective results by relieving distress surrounding one’s sleep and severe nightmares.
3. Imagery Rehearsal Treatment
For all those who experience the nightmare that results in their fear of sleep, Imagery Rehearsal Treatment can make use of other ways to lessen the nightmare and provide relief from the fear.
This treatment procedure also implements a re-scripting strategy to find out the true meaning of nightmares, offer them ratings, and finally find brand new, neutral ways to describe and enact them.
IRT can be used in tandem with several sleep hygiene activities and relaxation techniques.
Medicines that lower fear or level of anxiety can help reduce the overall symptoms of Somniphobia.
Sometimes, sleep medicines that treat insomnia are prescribed to give temporary relief to the patient.
D-cycloserine is one such medicine. It is an N-methyl D-aspartate receptor agonist. It has the potential to reduce the fear response during exposure therapy.
Benzodiazepines are another class of drugs, used primarily for treating panic and anxiety disorders.
It can help reduce the symptoms of Somniphobia. One can easily develop the habit of this medicine; hence it is highly controlled.
Finally, beta-blockers can also come of great help. They usually help reduce the level of blood pressure.
When exposure therapy fails to have any impact on people with Somniphobia, consuming beta blockers a few hours before sleep can considerably lower the anxiety level.
Medications are to be taken as per the prescription of a psychiatrist or a general physician. Keep in mind that psychiatric drugs may have some side effects. Thus, you need to follow medical advice strictly. The dosage and duration of consumption of the drugs are to be followed accordingly to get maximum benefits.
Prognosis of Somniphobia
The general outlook about Somniphobia is quite hopeful. Most patients with this form of sleep distress have managed their symptoms well.
With the right kind of treatment and family support, the person will be able to manage the condition successfully. Somniphobia treatment can be time-consuming at times. Thus, the patient may feel restless.
But remember that once the treatment is started, you cannot leave it halfway. Otherwise, the effects can be negative as well.
Treatment should be continued until the symptoms are well-managed and the person is able to get back to his/her normal living happily.
The recovery rates are good but you need to continue the treatment with patience and a positive mindset.
Why am I scared to sleep?
Most individuals love when there comes the time to sleep at night after a long day’s work.
It is the quiet time that comes at the end of the day, where you can relax, just look back at how the day went, and then switch off to have a good night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, it is not the same with some unlucky people, who are always feeling anxious about sleep.
They get frightened even by the thought of it. Sounds quite strange, right? This scenario is common among people suffering from Somniphobia.
If you have this problem, the encouraging fact is that you are not the only one suffering from the same.
Close to 70 million people in the US face trouble sleeping. Sleep Phobia happens to be one of the several sleep-related disorders like hypersonic, insomnia, and narcolepsy.
Now, it is time to see, why I am or if anyone else is scared to sleep?
1. Chronic Nightmares
Chronic nightmares crop up almost whenever you shut your eyes and you could experience bad dreams and bone-chilling sequences from time to time.
They invariably make sleeping a scary activity and hence, people tend to avoid them. In addition to this, you can see vivid nightmares, which happen to be horses of a different color.
When chronic and vivid nightmares combine, they give you the feeling as if you are experiencing those moments in real life. Hence, you always seem jittery and keep tossing and turning in your bed.
Even though people suffering from anxiety disorder might well experience insomnia, it is quite rare but not impossible that the rest during the nighttime is in itself letting you stay awake.
Probably, you are scared about losing control over some of the activities like walking, talking, etc.
There is a feeling within you that you might spell out secrets that others should not know. You cannot sleep out of this fear.
3. Sleep Disorders
The problem of Somniphobia does not simply exist out of nowhere. You can feel afraid to fall asleep due to some odd things that happen during those hours of the night.
You could be suffering from sleep apnea, which carries breathing issues. It can make you scared as you entertain thoughts of dying in sleep due to breathlessness.
4. Trauma Suffered Earlier in Life
Fear usually forms without us having full knowledge about what had happened earlier in our lives, or perhaps we have forgotten those memories.
Whatever be the situation, they can leave people with diseases for a lifetime. The same is applicable to sleep.
If you have certain connections, no matter how irrelevant they might seem this might well be the root cause of your issue.
For instance, one of your relatives had died, while you were asleep. It could also be that he or she had passed away in their sleep. Either of these instances makes you feel worried about sleep.
When to seek a doctor consultation?
If you ever feel that you are spending most of your time trying to avoid sleep in some way or another, it is time to consult a doctor or a health expert.
You can also reach out to a mental health professional when you are unable to sleep because of intense anxiety or panic. The sheer thought of going off to sleep is making you fearful.
The initial approach that you must take is to bring about changes in your lifestyle, or interventions by way of therapies and medication.
If these things do not work, then you must get in touch with a doctor and seek professional medical advice to get rid of this problem once and for all.
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
Somniphobia is challenging and painful at times. But the condition is treatable if intervention is sought quickly. At times, long-term treatment is needed to resolve the problem.
If you are looking at solving Somniphobia issues, try to identify the risk factors and root causes and treat them accordingly.
In most cases, Somniphobia has many other underlying emotional and trauma-related issues that need to be resolved early for better results.
Addressing the hidden causes of sleep dread will help to follow the treatment plan. It will make the path of recovery easy and joyful.
It is possible to overcome sleep anxiety with patience and following the medical advice of your mental health professional strictly can put this problem to rest forever.
Are you interested to know more about ‘Samhainophobia’ then click here?
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.