What Is Somniphobia?

It's not uncommon to have a phobia, in fact 19 million Americans admit to having one. However, the fear of falling asleep, or somniphobia, is on the rarer side.

Front view of Asian couple watching TV movies in bed in the bedroom at night, man and woman watch horror movies on television and use a blanket to cover their heads together at home.
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Some people fear spiders (arachnophobia). Some fear heights (acrophobia). Though many people have fear and anxiety about various things, for some people — about 19 million Americans — that fear is debilitating enough to be a phobia.

A phobia is when at least one specific object, situation, or activity provokes intense, uncontrollable, and irrational fear. For some people, that phobia is somniphobia, or fearing an essential everyday behavior: sleep.

While anxiety can impact sleep, compromising sleep quality and quantity for many people, those with somniphobia experience intense fear about falling asleep and may spend their days obsessively considering ways to avoid sleep.

Somniphobia is also distinct from sleep anxiety, which refers to apprehension around one’s ability to fall or stay asleep. In contrast, somniphobia is the fear of sleep occurring. “Somniphobia refers to people who are fearful of going to sleep,” says Chris Winter, neurologist, Sleep.com advisor, and author of “The Rested Child” and “The Sleep Solution.”

What causes somniphobia?

There’s no single cause of somniphobia, but those who experience somniphobia often have a history of chronic sleep problems.

Somniphobia often involves fear of what could occur during sleep, whether due to nightmares or a general sense of harm if one were not awake and alert.

Parasomnias, or sleep disorders, can cause unwanted, unusual behaviors, including night terrors and nightmares. People who experience these parasomnias are at a significantly higher risk for developing somniphobia because they may feel anxious about re-experiencing the frightening occurrence.

“I rarely treat somniphobia outside of individuals with nightmare disorders who fear sleep because of their dreams,” says Winter.

While research indicates over 40 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic sleep disorders, it’s unclear how many of those develop somniphobia. Some other physical and mental health conditions that may contribute to the development of somniphobia, along with parasomnias are:

The specific fears associated with somniphobia vary from person to person but may include anxieties provoked by personal experiences with sleep paralysis, nightmares, or hallucinations. Some individuals with somniphobia have an overwhelming fear of dying in their sleep.

What are the symptoms of somniphobia?

Somniphobia may present differently in different individuals, but the defining symptom is intense distress about sleep that can occur not only when the individual is trying to fall asleep but even when they’re just thinking about it at other times.

Other common symptoms of somniphobia include:

  • Avoiding sleep for as long as possible, sometimes through stimulating devices, including light and sounds, to maintain wakefulness
  • Irritability and/or mood swings
  • Trouble focusing throughout the day because of worries about going to sleep later
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Overall fatigue and fatigue-related symptoms, including increased heart rate, nausea, cold sweats, and more

Because of the health benefits of sleep, some of these symptoms can be exacerbated when the person does not get sufficient sleep.

What is the treatment for somniphobia?

If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from somniphobia, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider so they can make an accurate diagnosis and recommend the best course of treatment. "[Treatments for somniphobia] would reside in the realm of psychotherapy — like fear of flying or heights,” says Winter.

Like the most common forms of treatment for other phobias, treatment for somniphobia can include:

  • Exposure therapy, which may mean imagining yourself able to sleep peacefully and slowly working toward taking short naps
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which may involve challenging negative beliefs about sleep and working through the fears
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which involves recalling traumatic events while experiencing a form of sensory stimulation

While medication may be appropriate in certain cases, there is no specific pharmaceutical treatment for somniphobia. Some healthcare providers may prescribe beta blockers to help reduce blood pressure and anxiety before bed, but it’s important to work directly with a physician to determine the best course of action. While over-the-counter sleep aids may be helpful in the short term, they are not intended for long-term use and can cause additional health problems if used inappropriately.

Because long-term lack of sleep can lead to significant health problems like diabetes, stroke, and heart attack, it’s important to address somniphobia as soon as possible. Even in the short term, lack of sleep can lead to emotional dysregulation, diminished focus, and other issues, which can make daily tasks more challenging.

To help reduce the risk of developing symptoms, experts recommend practicing solid sleep hygiene habits, like limiting caffeine and alcohol, avoiding blue light-emitting devices before bed, and eating a well-balanced diet.

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