For most of us who don’t have sleep anxiety, going to bed at night is a blissful experience. We slip into our feathered duvets covers, relax, unwind and enjoy a goodnight’s rest.
There’s no doubt that sleeping is an awesome pleasure of life. Along with the likes of having intercourse or defecating.
But what if suddenly, sleeping is no longer enjoyable? It becomes a terrible nightmare, one that you can not even wake up from.
People suffering from sleep anxiety, find the mere idea of falling asleep terrorizing. They’re scared of not being able to control their body. What if they have terrible nightmares?
They’re anxious that what if they start sleep talking and disclosed some secrets. They can even worry that they may go to sleep and not be able to wake up again. Such people often find it difficult to fall asleep at night and wake up quite frequently.
Sleep anxiety can be accompanied by other sleep disorders such as apnea or insomnia. This can affect several areas of life. For e.g, leading to injurious health problems and affecting productivity, to name a few.
While there isn’t a logical cause for some of these worries. Other fears involve significant risks. What’s even worse, if people do not get their regular dose of sleep, they will have other health problems as well. As sleeping is crucial for both mental and physical well-being.
Sleep Anxiety and How to Overcome it?
What is Sleep Anxiety?
Sleep anxiety comes in many forms and names. It is commonly known as Sleep Dread, Sleep Phobia, Hypnophobia, Clinophobia and Somniphobia. The word ‘Hypnos’ is from the Greek God of Sleep. While the word ‘Somni’ is Latin for “Sleep” and Clinophobia is the fear of going to sleep. These are also the names that I’ll use throughout this article.
For sufferers of sleep anxiety, the thought of falling asleep is terrifying. Hypnophobia is quite different from insomnia. Although hypnophobia leads to insomnia in most cases. People dreading sleep are often found with a high level of Cortisol in their system. Along with other stress hormones, which further keeps them from sleeping.
In US alone, 19 million adults are affected with specific phobias. While 6.8 million adults are affected with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Sleep phobias are anxiety disorders. Basically, the sufferer feels an irrational fear of a stimulus or a situation. Anyone who has ever spent a night wide awake knows how stressful a lack of sleep can be. This affects both mental and physical capabilities. Your body aches, you can’t concentrate and keep falling short of your own expectations. Even your smallest daily tasks cost extreme strength.
Your mind and body are not quite up to speed when you haven’t had any sleep. A person without sleep dread can often crawl back into their feathers, after a night of some sleep. The following night, they can catch up on the lost sleep and then they are completely back to normal. In Clinophobia patients, this state of insomnia can drag on for several months and years.
The sleep dreaded person may often find that they can’t sleep despite the exhaustion. That is mainly because of the anxiety and anxiety associated with falling asleep. And even when the sufferer falls asleep, their rest is often incomplete and of poor quality.
Symptoms of Sleep Anxiety?
At first, sleep anxiety symptoms are not obvious to everyone. They differ from case to case basis. Have you noticed yourself leaning towards some coping methods lately?
The likes of leaving the lights on, or not turning the tv off, even playing music for distracting yourself. Some may even indulge in Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and other substances.
All of these are types of coping methods. Basically, to numb the fear of sleep. Sleep anxiety symptoms can start to appear both mentally and physically.
Mental sleep anxiety symptoms may include the following but not limited to:
- Fear or anxiety towards the thought of sleep and falling asleep.
- Avoiding bedtime and making excuses to stay up late.
- Feeling distressed as the bedtime gets closer.
- It’s easier to focus on sleep anxiety and fear of sleep more than anything else.
- Starts to panic as it gets closer to night-time.
- Experiencing difficulty in remembering things.
- You are easily irritated and noticing constant mood swings.
Physical sleep anxiety symptoms may include the following but not limited to:
- With children, being clingy, crying all the time and other avoidance to bedtime. It may also include not wanting to be left alone by parents or sitters.
- Experiencing trouble with breathing with the thought of sleep or falling asleep. Including, feeling chills and sweats or hyperventilating.
- Nauseating or having an upset stomach in regard to sleep anxiety.
- Feeling elevated heart rate and tightened chest whenever a sleep-related thought occurs.
Are these familiar to you? Are there any other symptoms you experienced? Then please let me know down in the comment section under the article! Thanks.
What Causes Sleep Anxiety and How Does it Happen?
Sleep anxiety can appear at any age and in any shape. And like many other phobias, the Clinophobia is conditioned.
You may have heard the story of Pavlov’s dogs. The Russian researcher Ivan Pavlov let a bell ring before he fed his dogs. Then a point came where the sound of the bell alone was enough to make the dogs drool. This is because the dogs were conditioned to get food on the sound of the bell.
Similarly, if not quite as simple, it is with the Clinophobia. At some point, patients have learned something negative about falling asleep.
Nightmares for example that keep showing up. Or wake up bathed in sweat, for no clear reason, but with a racing heart. Most people will be familiar with the fact that you can’t simply turn around and go back to sleep afterwards.
Sleep anxiety starts to become an illness. When the scary nightmares or the hyperventilation occur more often. When there is already an expectation that this unpleasant situation will occur again.
At one point you get so afraid of being subjected to this situation time and again. Which is not even in your own control. Your body switches to panic mode if you even think about going to sleep soon.
If sleep then comes because exhaustion drives you to it, it is not restful, but the next day is still torturing.
Below are some of the most common causes of Sleep Anxiety.
01. Sleep Anxiety through Sleep Talking
Most people talk nonsense when they talk during sleep.
But, keeping a secret or worrying about what you might say if you are asleep can lead to sleep anxiety. Which is very common if your work is quite sensitive in nature.
02. Terrifying Nightmares Causes Sleep Anxiety
Majority of us experience occasional nightmares throughout our lives. But, for some people, these nightmares occur every time they go to bed.
When someone has Somniphobia, their nightmares are disturbing and realistic. So much, that they don’t want to go to bed from the fear to relive those visions.
Those who suffer from anxiety disorders can also have a similar type of phobia. In the start, they might have difficulty falling asleep. Later on, when they manage to get some rest, they often have nightmares.
They may fear out of control if they pass out and think that something terrible could happen to them. This is often when people may call an exorcist, in some cultures. Thinking that demons or spirits may have possessed the sufferer’s body.
03. Sleep Anxiety Through Thanatophobia (Fear of Death)
Has the thought ever crossed your mind that you could go to sleep and never wake up again?
While it may seem abnormal and the chances are highly unlikely. Yet, this idea often governs the minds of people with sleep anxiety.
04. Sleep Paralysis causing Somniphobia
When we sleep, our brain stops the majority of our body movements. When we wake up again, the ability to move is gratefully restored.
But, for some people, they find that they cannot move if they wake up in the middle of the night or the morning. These are people suffering from Somniphobia.
They not only think but believe, that their brain is awake, but their body is still asleep. As you can imagine, this could make someone dread going to sleep.
05. Sleep Anxiety through Sleep Walking
The idea of sleepwalking is frightening for almost everyone. Not only it is somewhat embarrassing, but it can also be dangerous.
There are countless stories out there about sleepwalking. Often suggests that people fall into this unconscious state where they either hurt themselves or others.
While sleepwalking, when someone went through a close call of danger or death. It’s only natural that they might be afraid of it.
06. Scary TV Shows and Movies causes Clinophobia
A movie or a tv show based in a horror genre is not something to watch at night, especially if you have Clinophobia. That also includes playing scary video games before bed.
It is a very believable thought that someone or something might cause you harm. From an evil entity, a ghost, spiritual being all the way to scary creatures and alien abductions.
While we all know that this may seem a bit farfetched. There are movies like The Insidious, The Autopsy of Jane Doe and The Exorcist, to name a few, are so well made.
So well, in fact, that you’ll think twice about going to bed. Regardless if you suffer from Clinophobia or not.
07. Hypnophobia through Traumatizing Incidents
People suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) often experience Hypnophobia. It is quite noticeable after the passing of a loved one or experiencing physical trauma.
Most people go through periods of grief in their life. Yet, it affects the sufferers of Hypnophobia in a lot more ways.
What are the Consequences of Sleep Anxiety?
People can’t sleep in peace due to sleep anxiety. 3 to 5 hours of sleep is what most people get by on, which is not enough in the long run.
Their health starts to suffer and performance deteriorates. Into every detail of their life, this mental and physical fatigue radiates.
Focusing on work, looking after the family and close friendships require energy. Sleep anxiety drains that energy completely.
They even lack the energy to go meet other people or to look after themself. And a vast majority doesn’t understand this phobia that almost robs you of your mind.
Following are some of the most common consequences of Sleep Anxiety.
01. Clinophobia Leaves You Exhausted During the Day
People suffering from Clinophobia often don’t get a good night’s rest they need. Hence, the next day they end up exhausted.
Due to which some patient suffers from daytime sleepiness. Which is common in Clinophobia.
02. Chronic Fatigue is Real, Thanks to Sleep Anxiety
People with sleep anxiety for a long period are more likely to suffer from chronic fatigue.
Which makes your sleep debt so high, it ruins your entire circadian rhythm. Also, it causes hormonal imbalances as well as throws off other body functions.
03. Having Mood Swings because you’re Sleep Dread
Sleep dread people don’t sleep which results in irritability and moodiness. Dreading going to sleep and not enough rest affects your autonomic nervous system.
This is when your parasympathetic division is fully effective. Which is also known as the Fight or Flight mechanism.
For a short period of time, this causes temporary mood swings. But, if it’s left untreated for long, the mood swings can become chronic.
04. Experiencing Memory Loss due to Somniphobia
Not getting enough sleep due to Somniphobia affects cognitive skills, including memory loss. While we sleep, our brain learns, processes and consolidates information during this downtime.
Somniphobia deprives us of our sleep. When that happens, it compromises the brain’s ability to capture memories. Hence, experiencing memory loss is common
How to Overcome Your Sleep Anxiety?
Overcoming Sleep Anxiety can be hard at best and can be impossible at worst. It isn’t easy but is surely doable on your own. You are reaching constant overstimulation all the time.
Which, in today’s world, is hardly possible to escape. In fact, at many times, you may need to be overstimulated to be effective. But night-time is not one of them.
Following methods should help you get rid of your sleep anxiety once and for all.
The Art of Restoring Natural Sleep Pressure:
The following method aims to restore “natural sleep pressure”. You can achieve natural sleep pressure with sleep reduction. Sleep laboratories suggest that sleep deprivation is also a good remedy for depression as well. Depressed people who often don’t sleep at all for one night.
The result is that the body releases endorphins, such as those found after a physical workout. These hormones are natural and give you short-term feelings of happiness.
So how do you proceed to achieve natural sleep pressure? Well, make a resolution in the next 2 weeks e.g. only sleep 5 hours. Set up a fixed time (e.g. from 1:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.) in which to go to sleep. Regardless of whether you fall asleep in the given time or not, 6 a.m. is when you get up.
You will find that natural sleep pressure will return after a few days. But, go ahead anyway. After the 2 weeks, increase the sleep time by 1/2 hour to 1 hour at a 2-week cycle. In the vast majority of cases, you have overcome your sleep problem!
Why It May Not Work for You?
This so-called sleep deprivation method isn’t for people suffering from nocturnal panic attacks. Dr Tilmann Müller contraindicated this method. Dr Müller is from the Interdisciplinary Sleep Center at the Münster University Hospital.
He describes that it increases the probability of triggering a panic attack. This happens if a person transitions more abruptly from awake to sleep or light sleep to deep sleep. The metabolic and physiological changes that take place can trigger a panic attack.
Stand Up If You Can Not Sleep
It often happens where before or after falling asleep people startle again and again. It is especially experienced by people who have sleep anxiety. They lie in bed in a panic state and can no longer rest.
It is important in any case: get up! In the “twilight state” of the brain, you cannot control your thoughts. Get up, leave the bedroom, and turn on the lights. The background here is that you don’t associate your bed with “fear and horror”. And that the mere thought of going there deprives yourself of sleep.
The bright light causes your brain to suddenly wake up and drive away your terrible thoughts. Try it out, it works! Do something (but, please don’t watch TV!). Do crossword puzzles or clear any drawer. Something monotonous. Do not go back to bed until you think you can sleep.
If you still have too many thoughts in your head, get up and do it all over again until you think you are ready. It is interesting to know, that the brain produces most of the depressive thoughts from around 6 a.m.
You have already taken a “morning nap” and noticed that you are anything but rested afterwards. Thus, you shouldn’t go to bed after this time. Better make yourself breakfast, maybe check the news and plan out your rest of the day. The next night will be better!
Paradoxical Intention Cures Sleep Anxiety
The following method aims to psychologically trick our brains into falling asleep. Study results from Scottish researchers suggest. Many patients with sleep disorders are afraid of being awake at night. So afraid, that this fear alone prevents them from falling asleep.
When those affected, lay in bed with their eyes open and deliberately tried to stay awake. They fell asleep much faster than other test participants. This is what experts call “paradoxical intention”.
A method that is also used in psychotherapy. When we long for what we are afraid of, we are depriving this very fear.
A study further shows an exercise which helped the majority of the participants. This exercise also promises to help you fall asleep.
Place the tip of your tongue on the raised part of the palate behind your front teeth. Inhale through your nose counting to four. Then hold your breath and count to seven. Count to eight while exhaling through your mouth. A slight hiss should be heard.
The study suggests doing four repetitions of this exercise. This lowers the pulse and thus promotes relaxation.
Overcome Sleep Anxiety by Changing your Mindset
The mind itself is quite powerful. We develop sleep anxiety and related sleep phobias in our head. To fight it and change it, we have to first change our mindset.
If you’re worried about what will happen to you when you’re asleep, then try this trick. Each night before bed, start a wager with yourself that something bad will happen.
Bet one dollar in nickels, quarters or whatever metal money you have. Lay the money out on top of the dresser, somewhere easy enough to see. When you wake up the next morning, put that wager you just lost in a small pouch or a purse and leave it on your dresser.
Every next night, before bed, open the pouch and look at all the wagers you’ve lost. The accumulation of coins will verify how mistaken that sleep anxiety was.
Every night before bed, shake that pouch. That jingling is the sound of survival, your triumph over your sleep anxiety.
You have to learn to realize that your sleep anxiety can interrupt your night’s rest. Start expecting it, so when it does, you are ready. This way the brain begins to relax and provides you with the rest you need.
Good Sleep Hygiene helps Fight Somniphobia
Proper sleep hygiene is usually the first port of call when dealing with Somniphobia. This involves one to practice going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.
It further requires to avoid caffeine, avoid naps after lunch and keep the bedroom dark. A daily habit like this can signal your body telling you that it is time for sleep.
Create something in a structured manner which you find relaxing. Having chamomile tea while reading a boring book is what has worked wonders for me.
Whether you try something similar or completely different, it’s entirely up to you. If you develop a pre-bed ritual that you do every night. It won’t be long before you train yourself to fall asleep automatically.
Seek Professional Help for Sleep Anxiety
Once you start noticing Sleep anxiety symptoms, start with all the DIY approach. Something like changing your mindset and adopting good sleep hygiene. But if all else fails, setting up an appointment with a medical professional is the next best thing.
A trained sleep doctor or specialist may be able to diagnose your problem. Upon diagnosing, they’d be able to recommend treatment rather quickly.
It could be something simple like medication. While it can also be a few sessions of cognitive-behavioural therapy. Depending on the diagnosis and severity of your sleep anxiety.
The specialist can also recommend rehabilitation therapy. It is an interesting program used for people with Kakoneirophobia. It is the fear of nightmares.
In this rehab program, sufferers write and practice a new version of their nightmare. They do this throughout the day until they go to sleep. This allows them to regain control and overcome their fear of nightmares.
Avoid Unhealthy Habits and Eliminate your Phobia of Sleep
I asked to maintain good sleep hygiene and develop a nighttime routine, do you remember that?
Well, I still recommend that. but I must advise, please take caution against developing habits that are unhealthy.
Alcohol and medication that encourages drowsiness is not a healthy habit to develop. They may assist in sleeping for a night or two. But, in the long run, they’re detrimental for your health and well being.
Stop Worrying About Your Worries
When urgent or significant worries are on your mind, it’s not an easy thing to let go. But, you can make it easier by doing simple things.
Like it is extremely helpful when you practice exercises for mindfulness. They may include, but not limited to, deep breathing and meditation.
Remember this: When you’re in your bedroom, there isn’t much you can do about your worries. In fact, you can make it worse by overthinking about them.
So, best to avoid staying awake and ponder over them in various scenarios. Instead, focus on your good night’s sleep and remind your self that it’s a fresh new start tomorrow.
Wake up energized and have a creative perspective on your day ahead.
Embrace your Sleep Phobia
The type of movies I mentioned above, most of them have something in common.
It is that the protagonist of the story defeats the evil villain by taking it head-on. The hero denounces all their fears.
Psychologically, it is true and tested. You can embrace your fears and achieve the same outcome. Heck, go ahead and even say it out loud. Let yourself hear it and then believe it.
Putting voice in your sleep phobia can make you realize that it isn’t as bad as you thought. Another reasoning is that by saying it out loud, your brain can let go of the sleep phobia and you can fall asleep.
Yes, it does sound a bit out-there-ish. But, I urge you to give it a go.
7 Takeaways on Overcoming your Sleep Anxiety
01. Create a Perfect Sleeping Environment
This is one of the most effective ways to deal with anxiety. Your bedroom should be dark, cool with comfortable beds. Make sure there is little or no noise. Many people have discovered that showering or massaging with essential oils has a calming effect on their mind. Along with the use of a CBD oil can also help.
02. Schedule Regular Workouts
The best time to exercise is in the early morning or afternoon. Exercise can help you to get tired naturally. Avoid working out too late, however, so that your circulation does not kick in when you go to bed. Exercise can help reduce anxiety and promote sound sleep. This is because it can improve moods by reducing negative emotions.
03. Create a Flexible Routine
A significant number of workers and employers have little time to rest on weekdays and weekends. Your schedule should allow for breaks. Know the tasks that you can delegate or outsource. Using this approach, you can get enough hours of sleep every day. Another option is to volunteer for a cause that interests you. It has been proven that focusing on others can drastically reduce anxiety.
04. Stay Far Away from Stimulants
If necessary, avoid napping during the day. Avoid nicotine and caffeine in the afternoon and evening as these can worsen anxiety and interfere with sleep. Beware of sleeping pills or alcohol. These may help you fall asleep, but they can be highly addictive. If you do, Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation to avoid dehydration and waking up several times during the night.
05. Minimize Screen Time
Various studies show that prolonged exposure to blue light affects our sleep patterns. Certain glasses are designed to minimize their impact. Also, some mobile devices have software that can automatically change the screen color to a cooler shade at night. Consider giving up your phone an hour before bed and setting reminders.
06. Use Relaxation Techniques
Trying different relaxation techniques can offer many benefits day and night. Relaxation exercises can not only help you fall asleep but also lower the level of stress in general. The most common are breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation. They work better when you listen to soothing music and use your imagination. It’s best to find out what floats your boat. Your body will get used to the routine and sleep naturally over time.
07. Seek Professional Help
Don’t hesitate to share your sleep problems with people you trust. Chances are they can make suggestions or recommend sleep specialists. Alternatively, your doctor may refer you to a sleep clinic. You will receive professional advice and a treatment plan that suits your sleeping habits. The therapist can recommend therapy, medication, or both.
You’d agree with me that sleep is an amazing experience, isn’t it? It is needed for our survival and it is when we are the most vulnerable.
Luckily, for people in good health, the risk associated with dying in your sleep is minute. As you read above, create a healthy routine or simple changes in your mindset. This alone can cure the majority of causes of Sleep anxiety.
Cases with higher severity of sleep anxiety may need help from an expert. In today’s internet world, many professionals can help with something called talk therapy.
Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy are also often recommended for sufferers of Somniphobia. Furthermore, they can introduce you to Systematic Desensitization which is behavioural therapy.
So, try and see what works for your sleep anxiety. There is no need to be afraid anymore. Just remember, Your sleep is precious and so are you.
Sleep Anxiety FAQs
Is there a connection between sleep anxiety and insomnia?
Yes, Sleep anxiety and Insomnia do have a link in between. It is less likely for a sufferer of insomnia to have sleep anxiety.
But, someone diagnosed with sleep anxiety is most likely suffering from insomnia. This is because the sufferer’s anxiety and fear of sleep are not letting them fall asleep.
Why do I find sleeping alone terrifying?
Many factors can trigger the phobia of sleeping alone. It might be scary for you to know that if something happens while you’re sleeping, there won’t be anyone to help.
This is common for people who experience claustrophobia or any medical symptoms. You may worry that what if an intruder breaks in. You won’t have anyone to alert or defend you.
This can also be worrisome if you’re a sleepwalker. You may end up hurting yourself or walking out of your house and harming others.
Then there is one of the most depressing and sad thought. That when you sleep alone, you wake up alone as well. Which scares you to end up alone for the rest of your life.
Is Hypnophobia a common disorder?
Luckily, Hypnophobia is quite an uncommon one. This tends to affect children slightly more than adults. But, in general, it isn’t specific to any age.
Children usually grow out of it as they transition to becoming young adults. This is often with the help of parents, a behavioural therapist and sometimes both.
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