For most people, sleep is a chance to restore both body and mind after a long day. However, some people suffer from fear of sleep, also called somniphobia or sleep anxiety.
Instead of restful relaxation, somniphobia can cause intense fears of nightmares, losing control, or never waking up. Somniphobia is undoubtedly a challenging type of anxiety, and you are not alone in your experience.
As with other phobias, recognizing that you have it is the first step. Making lifestyle changes and trying various forms of treatment can also help you overcome the struggle.
12 practical tips for overcoming sleep phobia
- Be consistent. Consistency is essential to good sleep hygiene. Following a schedule helps your body maintain its natural internal clock (circadian rhythms). People who go to sleep at the same time each night also tend to fall asleep faster.
- Establish a bedtime routine. An hour before bed, start winding down. Turn off all electronics. Follow a simple, realistic schedule each night, such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, and reading for half an hour.
- Exercise regularly. Research shows that at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each day promotes better sleep, allowing the brain and body to rejuvenate. Just avoid working out too close to bedtime because it can overstimulate you.
- Keep naps short. Avoid long naps during the day, and don’t take naps within 6 hours of bedtime.
- Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine is a psychoactive substance that can exacerbate anxiety and interfere with circadian rhythms. You can measure the effects of caffeine by examining its half-life, which can range from 4-6 six hours. This means that consuming a cup of coffee at 3:00 p.m. can make you feel wired by 9:00 p.m.
- Create a restful sleep environment. Make sleep feel like a luxurious experience. Invest in a high-quality mattress, sheets, and pillow. Keep your room free of clutter and avoid spending time in your bed for things other than sleep.
- Avoid stressors before bed. Do not watch the news or troubling movies before you go to sleep. If a friend or partner wants to talk about a difficult topic, postpone the conversation until the following day.
- Practice meditation. Meditation can promote restful sleep. Consider using a meditation app with guided scripts or simply close your eyes and practice deep breathing techniques.
- Manage your stress. Be mindful of people or situations that trigger stress in your life. Practice healthy coping skills that help reduce your stress response or agitation.
- Get enough sun. Expose yourself to natural sunlight during the day. This can help maintain and even boost your circadian rhythms.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol may cause you to feel drowsy, but it can also cause sleep disruptions and trigger sleep-induced breathing irregularities. Long-term use of alcohol or sleeping pills should be avoided.
- Seek professional help. Sometimes, the right treatment and a short-term medication course can help reset your body and help you get rid of the emotional issues associated with your sleep anxiety.
How is sleep phobia treated?
If your fear of sleep is severe, seeking medical help and treatment is also important. Finding the right therapist is the first step. While all therapists must have extensive training and expertise, it’s crucial to find someone who makes you feel safe and comfortable. When speaking to a therapist, it’s best to be prepared to discuss your issue.
Treatment often involves:
- Cognitive therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you to identify and understand your thought patterns:
- Helps you reframe your thoughts to reduce the level of distress.
- Requires you to go to bed and wake up at specific times (sleep restriction), which allows the body to develop an ideal sleep pattern
- Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy involves:
- Discussing your fears and reasons for your anxiety
- Imagining what it would feel like to sleep
- Using relaxation techniques
- Expose you to your fears with images
- Sleeping in a sleep lab while a medical expert observes you as you sleep
- Medication: Medications can also be used to reduce symptoms of somniphobia:
- Benzodiazepines: Sedatives that calm and relieve anxiety symptoms. They cannot be used for a long period because they are addictive.
- Beta-blockers: Drugs that reduce physical anxiety symptoms. They help maintain a steady heart rate and regulate blood pressure.
Remember that sustainable results take time. It’s normal for it to take a few sessions before you start feeling like you are making progress.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Thomas TJ. How to Overcome Somniphobia. Savvy Sleeper. 2021. https://savvysleeper.org/somniphobia/
Sleep Advisor. How to Overcome the Fear of Going to Sleep (Somniphobia). https://www.sleepadvisor.org/fear-of-going-to-sleep/
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FDA. "Sleep Disorder (Sedative-Hypnotic) Drug Information." Updated: Jun 13, 2017.
Chawala, J, MD. "Insomnia Medication." Medscape. Updated: Aug 01, 2016.
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