• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

What To Do If You’re Scared to Sleep


Little Asian boy peeking through the space between the bedframe and the mattress; scared to sleep
Are you afraid to go to sleep at night? Photo by baby abbas

The fear of sleeping is called somniphobia. Being scared to sleep can be caused by a number of things, including sleep disorders like night terrors or sleep paralysis, as well as leftover affects from past traumatic events in your life. This article describes ways that you can combat your fear of sleeping so that you can sleep peacefully again.


Often, becoming scared to sleep comes about when you mentally and emotionally pair an unpleasant experience with sleep. Then your mind associates sleep with that upsetting experience, and it is hard to dissociate the two. Unfortunately, it becomes a phobia in its own right.


Some of the things that you don’t want to do are drink alcohol to sleep or watch upsetting television programs or movies before trying to sleep. This would include reading things like true crime, horror stories, or upsetting news before sleeping. Instead, create a healthy routine to prepare yourself for sleep, and treat the underlying condition that makes you scared to sleep.


Identify Why You’re Scared to Sleep

The first place to start is to figure out why you’re afraid to sleep. Do you get nightmares or night terrors when you try to sleep? Are you preoccupied with terrible things that you think will happen once you go to sleep? What specifically are you afraid will happen once you go to sleep? All of these things are important to evaluate when you are afraid to sleep.


You might also notice what assumptions and thoughts you have about sleep. Do you automatically assume that you will have an unpleasant experience and be fatigued the next day from lack of sleep? Do you tell yourself that you haven’t been able to sleep in the past week, so therefore you probably won’t sleep tonight? As an exercise, you might write down all of the troublesome thoughts that go through your head about sleep and your ability to have a restful night of slumber.


Once you’ve done that, go through the list and ask yourself what evidence you have to support these claims. This is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, that can be useful in assuring you mentally that you are making unfounded assumptions that are interfering with going to sleep.

Caucasian hand with pen writing down thoughts in a notebook; scared to sleep
What thoughts make you scared to sleep?

Adapt Your Mindset and Environment to Achieve Deep Sleep

Once you have identified the thoughts that interfere with sleep, you can create a peaceful environment in which to sleep. You will want to have a dark, comfortable place with a bed that adequately supports your body, as well as an absence of bright screens (including phones). Pay attention also to the inner environment of your mind. You’ve removed the expectations that make you scared to sleep. Now, you can replace those thoughts with something more peaceful and conducive to surrendering to sleep.


For example, if you feel unsafe before you go to sleep, you can reassure yourself that whatever you experience when you’ve been asleep in the past, you have survived. Not only that, but you can assure yourself that you are capable of creating safety in your home. Look around at your room and see that there are no dangerous people or things in the room. If you need to, look around the room physically to make sure there are no potential threats as well.


At this point, you might think about a safe place or safe person that makes you feel comfortable and secure. Think about that person or place in as much detail as possible, to create a strong emotional experience of peace and ease. One of the ways I like to help people do this is with hypnosis and guided imagery.


Look at the list of assumptions about sleep, and flip those statements to the opposite. For example, if you think that you will have a negative experience based on your previous experiences, you can tell yourself, “I choose to have a positive and restful night’s sleep. I will do whatever it takes to make that happen tonight.” If you believe that you are not safe, you can affirm to yourself that you have checked out all possible threats and removed them to the best of your ability, and so you are now safe. You’d be amazed at how powerful your self-talk can be an influencing your emotional and physical experience.


Hypnosis Can Help You If You’re Scared to Sleep

You might not have considered hypnosis as an option for somniphobia, but it can be very helpful to train yourself to get relaxed around bedtime. Hypnosis is also very effective in removing anxiety, which is the cardinal feature of somniphobia. In a relaxed, focused state of absorbed attention, you become more receptive to certain suggestions of safety, peace, and calm. You can also subconsciously remove some of the factors or beliefs that create your fear of sleeping so that you have lasting change.


Self-Hypnosis To Remove Your Fear of Sleeping

When I do hypnosis for somniphobia, or any condition that makes you upset, I create a recording of the session that I send to you so that you can practice going into trance on your own. The more you listen and practice getting into this state of focused relaxation, the better you become at it. Like any skill, self-hypnosis can be reinforced through dedicated practice. Luckily, it is a very pleasant state that many people report enjoying. Therefore, it is not hard to use self-hypnosis for changing your fear of sleep.



Young African-American man resting on the beach; scared to sleep
In a relaxed state, you will be less scared to sleep

EMDR Therapy to Remove Past Traumatic Aftereffects

If your fear of sleeping is due to posttraumatic stress, it can be helpful to resolve the trauma that caused your fear of sleeping. Some people have had medical problems while they were sleeping; other people might have had panic attacks in the night that awaken them. When you do EMDR therapy, your emotional and mental energy gets unstuck from that event so that you can feel neutral about it and move on with your life. Many of my clients have told me that a combination of EMDR therapy and hypnosis helps them sleep much more soundly and peacefully. We can also do EMDR therapy about nightmares that you’ve had, in order to remove upsetting emotional residue from nightmares or night terrors.


If you feel scared to sleep and want a more peaceful, satisfying night’s sleep, I can help you. Please call me at 661-233-6771.

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