Your Bedtime Anxiety Spirals Might Actually Be Somniphobia - How To Overcome It

If you find yourself unable to go to sleep at night, whether you're laying awake with anxious thoughts running through your mind or the idea of going to sleep itself makes you feel anxious, you might be prone to assume that you simply have insomnia. However, there may be a more pronounced underlying cause for your inability to fall asleep with ease. That is somniphobia, the fear of falling asleep. Sometimes, this may have a simple root cause, but other times, the condition can be a result of having experienced a traumatic event or having negative associations with falling or staying asleep throughout the night.

Understanding somniphobia and finding successful solutions are essential since chronic loss of sleep can lead to other serious health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain, says Sleep Foundation. It's acknowledged that many phobias can be avoided, such as a fear of spiders or snakes, but a person can't exactly turn a blind eye — or shut eye — to a phobia of sleep given how essential and primitive sleep is to survival. Both children and adults can experience somniphobia, and the condition may arise later in life after a traumatic event occurs. Knowing how to recognize the condition and ways to treat it are key. Here's what you need to know about somniphobia, how to identify it, and how you can overcome it.

Symptoms and signs of somniphobia

When it comes to identifying somniphobia, one of the biggest tells is if the fear of falling asleep is affecting your daily life in negative ways, including not getting enough rest and being overly fatigued throughout the day, per Healthline. There are both physical and mental health side effects of somniphobia, with most cases experiencing some of both. Physical signs and side effects include anxiety around sleep becoming so intense that you feel nauseous, dizzy, develop a headache, or vomit. Since somniphobia is related to an anxious fear of falling asleep, a common symptom is hyperventilation. On occasion, a person might feel a tightness in their chest associated with hyperventilation, anxiety, or stress. If you experience any of these problems, consult your healthcare provider to ensure that your overall health is being prioritized.

Should a person become too sleep deprived and have their bodies take over by falling asleep at random times of the day, physical safety may be placed at risk should a person fall asleep while driving or doing another task that urgently requires conscious awareness, such as operating heavy machinery or looking after a child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a lack of sleep can cause impaired mobility and cognitive functioning akin to being intoxicated, with a lack of sleep for 24 hours straight exceeding the equivalent impairment level of drunk driving. 

Impacts of somniphobia on mental health

On the mental health side of things, including emotional well-being, somniphobia has numerous symptoms that can help identify the condition, states Healthline. In tandem with anxiety and stress-induced hyperventilation and chest tightness, the underlying causes of anxious thoughts and stressful reactions are frequently rooted in traumatic responses. This is particularly common if a person feels excessive distress as it begins to get dark outside and the time to go to bed gets closer. Due to lack of sleep, additional cognitive and psychological effects can include difficulty with or inability to focus on tasks throughout the day, and lack of emotional regulation in the form of mood swings or irritability, impacting daily life and social interactions. 

If disruptions to sleep occur to an extreme or excessive degree, then a person may not be able to focus on job-related responsibilities and could have complications maintaining employment. Similarly, relationships can be negatively influenced if mood and irritability become a point of tension, whether in romantic partners, friendships, or co-workers. If a student is in school, then their academic performance might suffer as a result of decreased focus, inability to pay attention, and lack of work completion. 

Cleveland Clinic reports that somniphobia is often itself a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with additional PTSD symptoms such as night terrors enhancing the fear of sleep. Hallucinations and sleep paralysis can exacerbate somniphobia. Luckily, there are several treatments and solutions for overcoming the condition.

Successfully overcome somniphobia

Whether somniphobia is caused by PTSD or anxiety, or mental health conditions arise due to somniphobia, seeking counseling or other therapeutic outlets can lead to progress in overcoming the fear of going to sleep at night. Sleep Health Solutions recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a way to successfully overcome somniphobia since it can help develop coping skills to reduce anxiety and stress. Mindfulness, meditation, and other calming activities are effective in easing anxiety and stress as well, and many times, elements of mindfulness and meditation are used alongside CBT. Speaking with a trained mental health professional through methods like CBT or dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT) can help you better understand why you fear going to sleep and work through underlying causes, such as traumatic experiences from your past. 

In addition to CBT and DBT, other mental health therapies like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapy, imagery rehearsal treatment (IRT), and exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy (ERRT) can be equally as effective, says Choosing Therapy. In some cases, your healthcare provider might suggest medication, which could include anti-anxiety medication, sleep aids, or a combination to ease your anxiety and stress levels while simultaneously helping you achieve the quality of sleep your body and mind need to survive and thrive. Additionally, a strong support system, including a mental health practitioner you trust, and healthy coping skills will help you get the sleep you need.