• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

Why Is My Somniphobia Keeping Me Awake?

Updated: Jan 13


Sleep be young woman with nose ring probably has somniphobia
Somniphobia interferes with sleep and peace of mind; photo by Francesca Zama

If you are fearful of going to sleep, you may suffer from somniphobia. Somniphobia is the fear of going to sleep. Sometimes, when people have repeated experiences of difficulty sleeping, night terrors or nightmares, they can develop somniphobia. This fear also goes by different names, such as sleep dread, sleep anxiety, hypnophobia, or clinophobia.

As you know from your personal experience, sleep is very important for your physical and mental well-being; it also helps you get through the day when you’re busy with your household duties, or at work or school. This blog post helps you understand what somniphobia is, including what the symptoms are. Once you’ve identified what’s going on, it is easier to address your somniphobia.


What are the symptoms of somniphobia?

Fear and dread about going to sleep are the main features of this phobia. It is not the same as insomnia, which is simply difficulty falling or staying asleep. This more resembles anxiety about going to sleep, and it increases as bedtime approaches. You might start worrying about having nightmares, feeling uneasy, and being uncomfortable emotionally, which might increase difficulty in falling asleep.


Anytime you experienced fear, your autonomic nervous system goes into fight or flight mode. This means that you are ready to defend yourself against a perceived, potential attack or run from a predator or dangerous situation. This is the exact opposite of what you need to be experiencing when you get ready to sleep.


Therefore, you might experience panic attacks, lightheadedness, chest pains, abdominal pain, nausea or headaches if you suffer from somniphobia. In addition, you might also feel edgier, distress, or worried that you will die or lose control. This may range and how much it affects you, from mild to severe. Obviously, if you experience severe somniphobia and have the symptoms nightly, you won’t be able to sleep very well. Eventually, that will catch up to you.


Potential causes of somniphobia

Some of the things that can contribute to developing somniphobia include negative experience when you’re trying to sleep. You may have sleep paralysis, nightmare disorder, or fear dying in your sleep.


Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a terrifying experience where you’re awake but you can’t move, speak or open your eyes. You might feel like someone’s watching you or feel physical pressure like someone’s holding you down. It can also include visual, sensory or auditory hallucinations.

It is believed that happened when your brain gets signals crossed about the REM cycle; your body is still paralyzed as if you were still asleep, but your conscious mind is awake. It can happen to anyone, but tends to happen more often in adolescents and young adults, and usually occurs when the sleep schedule has been disturbed or the person is under stress or anxiety. It’s easy to see why that would make you fear going to sleep.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

If you have been traumatized, PTSD can interfere with your sleep as well. PTSD makes people hypervigilant (you’re ready for something terrible to happen at any moment), which makes your nervous system hyper-aroused (ready to respond to a potential threat). Many times, people have nightmares about what happened to them or similarly-themed bad dreams. The dreams often involve threats to survival or integrity, such as being sexually assaulted, chased, emotionally abused, or physically threatened. PTSD also can make people have night terrors, and generally interfere with sleep. Overall, having negative experiences that you associate with sleep can lead to somniphobia.


Nightmare disorder

Asian man turning his head back and forth quickly; somniphobia
Nightmares can be confusing and create more anxiety, making it hard to go back to sleep. Photo by Wei Ding

Ever wake up in a cold sweat from a bad dream? Chances are, if this has happened repeatedly, you might have a nightmare disorder. Nightmare disorder is more than the usual occasional nightmare. It is frequent, upsetting, vivid dreams that prevent a person from fully resting. Nightmares are more common in children than adults, but in my practice a fair number of adult and adolescent clients report nightmares if they have anxiety or PTSD. You wake up upset emotionally, as well as physiologically reactive to the dream (pounding heart, sweaty hands, etc). It can be so distressing, that you can’t go back to sleep easily, even if it’s the middle of the night. This can clearly lead to developing somniphobia.


Risk factors for somniphobia

Anxiety in general can lead to developing somniphobia. If you have already had anxiety symptoms, you might be preoccupied with having them again. Similarly, if you have had difficulty sleeping, you might worry that you will repeat the same experience now. Other risk factors for developing somniphobia include sleep apnea; Generalized Anxiety Disorder; sleepwalking; night terrors; and a history of trauma that occurred at night. If you are suffering from somniphobia, you may feel fatigued during the day. It might be difficult for you to stay on task at work. You may space out and have difficult paying attention to details.


Unfortunately, the longer your somniphobia goes on, the more dangerous it could become. This is especially so if you are driving to and from work and find it difficult to stay awake. Luckily, there are things that you can do to treat your somniphobia. I will be writing about this next time. Until then, if you are interested in reducing the stress and anxiety in your life, please give me a call at 661-233-6771.

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