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How to Overcome Somniphobia

Tyler Joseph (TJ) Thomas

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For most people, the end of the day brings thoughts of a peaceful night cuddled up in bed. For some, the prospect of getting in bed and going to sleep is terrifying. Somniphobia creates an intense aversion to sleep. People with the condition avoid it at all costs—even if they have an amazing mattress.

What is Somniphobia?

Somniphobia is a fear, like arachnophobia or claustrophobia. It is also known as hypnophobia, clinophobia, sleep anxiety, or sleep dread.

Somniphobia is different from sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea. Of course, these disorders can be linked to each other.

Somniphobes do as much as they can to avoid going to bed. Once they do fall asleep, that sleep is usually interrupted and fitful. Sleep is one of the most important things we do for the health of our bodies, so losing sleep in any way can lead to some severe symptoms and side effects.

Symptoms of Somniphobia

Common symptoms of somniphobia include anxiety around bedtime, panic attacks, and struggling to focus on anything except how to avoid sleeping at night. Physical manifestations of the phobia include nausea, cramps, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate.

These symptoms add undue stress on your body, making it more difficult to fall asleep and potentially exacerbating the issues.

Risks of Not Getting Enough Sleep

The obvious side effects of somniphobia are chronic fatigue and daytime sleepiness. One night without proper sleep can lead to lapses in judgment and impaired behavior. A study by AAA found that people who miss two to three hours of sleep quadruple their risk of getting in a car wreck. Plus, CDC data shows that drowsy driving accounts for over 100,000 accidents every year.

Drowsiness also leads to higher rates of workplace accidents. This in turn leads to a lack of productivity, which has its own consequences.

The lack of sleep this phobia causes changes your circadian rhythm—the internal clock telling you when it’s time to be awake and asleep. Since our internal clocks are influenced by the presence of sunlight, it runs smoothest when your bedtime routine is in line with night and day. (This is why many shift workers also have trouble getting good sleep.)

Improper sleep habits have been shown to impact performance during daytime hours due to the difference between your actual awake hours versus when your circadian rhythm wants you to be awake.

Lack of sleep, in a general sense, can damage your body as well—it’s not an issue unique to people with this phobia. Restless sleep leads to symptoms such as mood swings, memory loss, or diminished fine motor control.

Causes of Somniphobia

People that experience sleep paralysis on a regular basis are candidates for somniphobia. Sleep paralysis is when people wake up with absolutely no control over their body. It can happen at any time of the night. This is not a common phenomenon for most people, but it is justly terrifying.

Sleepwalking is also common among those with somniphobia. Sleepwalkers have been known to injure themselves bad enough to require hospitalization during their nighttime strolls—without any recollection of the event. The potential for a bad injury during a sleepwalking episode, especially for people who live alone, could cause them to develop a fear of falling asleep.

Sometimes, the cause of this phobia can be as simple as watching too many horror movies. Viewing of this genre, in which nighttime is a popular setting, could lead to anxiety around sleep.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) sufferers can also develop somniphobia. PTSD episodes are fairly common at night and can be difficult to overcome in the moment. Anxiety from the lack of control during sleep might cause a PTSD sufferer to fear going to bed at night.

Like mentioned earlier, having other sleep disorders could cause an aversion to sleeping. Sleep apnea, where breathing stops and starts overnight, can be life-threatening. Even if you have a CPAP machine to assist apnea, there is always the possibility the machine could fail overnight and leave you unprotected.

If your brain commonly associates negative experiences with sleep or bedtime, a phobia can develop.

How Many People Have Somniphobia?

We do not currently have accurate data on how many people suffer from this particular phobia. The consensus is that being afraid to sleep is one of the less common phobias. According to the American Association of Sleep Medicine, 50-70 million Americans experience some form of sleep disorder. A small percentage of these people will experience a few symptoms of somniphobia. Fewer still will get an official diagnosis. That makes it far less common than arachnophobia, the most common phobia in the United States.

Generally speaking, somniphobia affects children more often than it affects adults. If your child crawls into bed with you at night and is overly clingy around bedtime, you might have experienced somniphobia secondhand. As you might imagine, kids usually grow out of somniphobia as they get older. It shouldn’t be of much concern unless symptoms persist.

So, How Do You Overcome Somniphobia?

There are several routes you can take to work past the fear of going to sleep, both medical and natural. It’s recommended that you consult your doctor to find out what options work best for you, but here are a few tips that may help soothe your fears around going to bed.

  1. Establish a routine that prepares your body for bed. Take a shower, wash your face, or read a few chapters of a book every night before climbing into bed. Whatever you decide, keeping a consistent routine and practicing good sleep hygiene will tell your body bedtime is approaching. Your body subconsciously prepares itself to go to sleep, which helps reduce stress.
  2. Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every day. This helps out your circadian rhythm, making it easier for you to fall asleep. You’ll soon start to get sleepy when bedtime approaches. Before you know it, you will WANT to climb in bed because you’ve told your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
  3. Learn how to fall asleep. If you suffer from somniphobia, you might be bad at falling asleep. A common reason to struggle to fall asleep is overthinking. With nothing else to focus on at night, it becomes easy to dwell on past mistakes or plan for the future. This happens to almost everybody at some point in their lives, regardless of the presence of somniphobia. Strategies to help you fall asleep fast will prevent you from contemplating that one mistake you made five years ago. Nobody remembers that incident besides you, anyway.
  4. Avoid using blue-light-emitting technology around bedtime. Studies show that the blue light screens emit can have a negative impact on our ability to fall asleep because they hinder the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. To get the most out of your time asleep and prevent disrupting melatonin production, try to avoid screens in the few hours leading up to bedtime.
  5. Therapy is also an option for severe cases of somniphobia. Licensed therapists can help you figure out the cause of the phobia. After diagnosis, they will walk you through your therapy options. Exposure therapy introduces you to your phobia in a controlled environment. Getting accustomed to the stimulus that causes a phobia will help you to curtail it. Another option is cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT helps you recognize your thoughts about sleeping as inaccurate, negative, or counter-intuitive.

FAQs

Why is sleep so important for our health?

While asleep, your brain consolidates short term memories into long term memories. It also repairs and creates neural connections. Your body recovers from the day, repairing muscles, cuts, and bruises. Sleep functions as a restorative process. Without sleep, you will deteriorate mentally and physically.

Why don’t I feel refreshed when I wake up?

It may have to do with your mattress, one of the least updated pieces of furniture in the house. Believe it or not, sleep technology has vastly improved over the past decade. The bed you slept on ten years ago may have been perfect for you back then, but that same bed now is creating a less-than-ideal environment for you to sleep in. There are a ton of guides available to help you find the best mattress for your sleep style.

I think I have somniphobia (or another phobia). What should I do?

The first thing you should do if you think you have any type of phobia is to visit your doctor. They will be able to diagnose your phobia and recommend the next steps. Listen to what they say, and follow their direction with regard to treatment.

Is somniphobia the same as being afraid of the dark?

Not exactly. Most phobias have similar base symptoms: shortness of breath, increased heart rate, etc., but the phobia of the dark—nyctophobia—isn’t synonymous with somniphobia. Being afraid of sleeping doesn’t mean you’re afraid of the dark. However, the dark does usually mean it’s time to go to bed. It’s easy to mistake one for the other, despite being separate phobias.

Where can I learn more about somniphobia?

Sleeping and sleep habits are widely researched topics. A simple search will turn up dozens of published medical studies about somniphobia and sleep-related disorders and how they affect us.

Conclusion

No two situations regarding somniphobia will be the same. What works to curb somniphobia for one person may be completely ineffective for someone else with the same fear. Regardless of your approach, taking constructive steps toward overcoming these fears will help you become a healthier, better version of yourself.

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