Sleep is a natural activity the body craves after a hard day’s work. But while some anticipate the act of getting into bed, turning off the lights, and entering dreamland, others dread it all together. Let’s discuss the fear of sleeping at night and explore ways to overcome this obstacle.
Sleep phobia or somniphobia is exactly what it sounds like — the fear of falling asleep. From feeling apprehensive about sleeping to full-on fear of nightmares and never waking up, sleep phobia is on a spectrum and affects people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Anxiety and sleep disorders also tend to overlap. In other words, anxiety can affect sleep, and sleep can affect anxiety. While a person with anxiety has difficulty falling asleep, someone with a sleep disorder may feel anxious and afraid of not getting the rest they need, creating a never-ending cycle.
The exact cause isn’t known, but some factors at play are:
- Chronic anxiety — Triggers the body’s release of stress hormones about everyday situations like falling asleep. The thought of distressing events happening while one is sleeping, such as death or burglary, can also cause somniphobia.
- Sleep paralysis — Occurs when waking from REM sleep, i.e., rapid eye movement, with paralyzed muscles, making movement difficult. This can also induce frightening hallucinations.
- Nightmare disorder — Frequent and vivid nightmares that cause distress. Trauma and PTSD can also induce this.
To reduce sleep anxiety, healthy boundaries around sleep or “sleep hygiene” are needed. This means establishing a routine before bed, making the bedroom comfortable for sleep, cutting back on caffeine, and managing stress.
But if the fear of sleeping at night is severe, seeking a professional for help may be appropriate.
Let’s take a closer look at these strategies:
This means going to bed at the same time every night — and yes, even on the weekends. A healthy bedtime routine starts by winding down an hour before bed, silencing electronic devices, tending to personal hygiene, dimming the lights, and ends by taking part in a relaxing activity like reading.
So, why is consistency important? Research shows that a consistent sleep schedule improves the quality of sleep and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm, i.e., the internal clock. Moreover, cardiovascular functions like blood pressure and heart rate follow circadian patterns, promoting restorative sleep and optimal health.
Research shows that those who have higher quality sleep have bedrooms optimized for sleep. This includes:
- Temperature — 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius) is the ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping.
- Light — Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. The brain produces melatonin, a hormone that induces feelings of sleepiness and relaxation when it gets dark. Exposure to artificial light in the evening, such as blue light from phones, computers, and television screens, can disrupt circadian rhythms and prolong sleep onset.
- Noise — Loud noises can cause sleep disruption and harm physical and mental health. Fans, noise-blocking curtains, and white noise machines can block outside noise. Soothing music can also mask sounds and has been shown to alleviate pain and anxiety. Several sleep applications like ShutEye utilize this technique, creating a calm and comforting soundscape for optimal sleep.
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance that prolongs sleep latency, i.e., the amount of time it takes for a person to fall asleep, reducing total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep quality. It also worsens anxiety and blocks adenosine, a sleep-promoting chemical produced in the brain during waking hours. When caffeine blocks this chemical, it will interfere with the circadian rhythm, keeping a person awake and alert. Moreover, the recommended cut-off time for caffeine is at least six hours before bedtime.
It’s important to be mindful of stress as high levels can trigger the body’s stress response, elevating the hormone cortisol and disrupting sleep. To manage stress, practice coping mechanisms before bed like meditation and journaling, and avoid watching the news or upsetting television.
If the fear of sleeping at night is severe, a therapist can help. Treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and medication.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy — Identifies and challenges negative thought patterns to alter unwanted behavior, e.g., fear of sleeping at night.
Cognitive therapy reduces distress before bed and requires a person to go to bed and wake up at specific times, i.e., sleep restriction, to allow the body to develop a sleeping pattern.
- Exposure therapy — Involves discussing fears around sleep, relaxation techniques, imaging what it would feel like to sleep, and sleeping in a sleep lab for observation.
- Medication — Sedatives and drugs that reduce physical anxiety symptoms like beta-blockers can be used to reduce sleep phobia.
While the above strategies are designed to curb the fear of sleeping at night, they’re not instantaneous as the body needs time to adjust to new rituals and routines.
To bridge the gap, get some ShutEye — your personalized one-in-all app to help you relax and sleep. From monitoring sleep cycles to enhancing sleep environment, ShutEye is the sleep app you’ll never want to go a night without. To fulfill all your sleep inquiries, visit the ShutEye website for more information.