Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

The Phobia That Turns Sleep Into Terror Time

Sleep is vital for our physical and mental health, yet a rare phobia makes going to sleep a time filled with fear.

Sleep, for most of us, is a time to rest, relax and prepare for the day to come. It can mean sliding into a comfortable, ultra-high-tech bed that changes temperature or its pitch to suit our wishes, or a time to read as we slip off into sleep. For our bodies, especially our brains, it is the most active time when cleaning and, possibly, repair is in order and numerous actions to maintain our health are performed, but not all. Now we know there’s a rare sleep disorder that makes this time anything but soothing and comfortable.

A severe fear of falling asleep or staying asleep for an extended period of time characterizes somniphobia, sometimes referred to as sleep dread. The fear response linked to somniphobia can take many different forms and can significantly affect both a person’s physical and mental health.

Extreme distress when contemplating or attempting to sleep is the primary symptom of somniphobia. Imagine what it must be like to be dead tired and yet fear going to sleep. Those who have somniphobia may put off going to bed as long as they can, feel irritated or moody, keep the lights on or the TV on while trying to go to sleep and find it difficult to focus during the day. A tightness in the chest, an elevated heart rate, and nausea or other stomach problems linked to chronic dread about sleep are some prominent physical symptoms of this phobia.

What would cause this phobia? Usually, phobias are things or places where something extremely upsetting or fearful has happened. I once read a paper by a famous psychologist who said there were one thousand phobias. I tend to doubt that, but it’s possible, and this might be one of them. How could that happen with sleep?

A young boy, who participated in psychological testing with me, had a serious fear of going to bed at night. Why? His older brother had repeatedly frightened him, telling him that an evil monster was under his bed, waiting to come out to get him. It was cruel, and the boy went to bed in tears on a nightly basis.

Sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia or terrible experiences that occurred while you were asleep can also cause somniphobia. Moreover, those who struggle with anxiety or depression may develop it as a result of their other symptoms.

Healthcare professionals use a variety of techniques to treat somniphobia. These can include relaxation methods like meditation or breathing exercises, counseling such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people question negative thought patterns and create coping mechanisms, and medication sometimes anti-anxiety medications are needed. In addition to these methods, developing a regular sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine before bed, may be useful in controlling somniphobia.

The frequency of somniphobia is unknown, but it is thought to be quite uncommon. It’s crucial to remember that phobias are thought to impact 10% of the population overall.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that agoraphobia, social phobia, and particular phobias are the three most common phobias in the world. Fear of flying, animals, heights, small places, and other circumstances or objects are just a few examples of specific phobias.

Agoraphobia is the fear of being in circumstances in which getting out may be challenging or embarrassing, or in which getting aid in the event of a panic attack or other emergency may be impossible. I once spoke to a woman who developed a phobia organization to help others. “I was at a party in Europe,” she said, “and it was high up in a hotel, and when I walked to the windows, I felt I was being pulled forward and I’d die because I was afraid I might jumpI wanted to run, but I couldn’t.” At that time, she had her first panic attack. She was Jerilyn Ross. The fear initiated a phobia that required years of therapy.

It is unknown how long the average person endures somniphobia because the condition’s length and intensity can differ greatly based on the person and its underlying causes. Nonetheless, it is typically regarded as a chronic illness that, if untreated, can last for months or even years. A friend had a relative, an aunt, who refused to go to sleep at night because of her fear. She sat up until dawn and then she went to bed. Needless to say, her health suffered as a result of this anxiety.

Those with somniphobia can find relief and an improved attitude by seeking expert assistance. The most probable places would be centers that specialize in anxiety or sleep disorders and there are now many around the country.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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