Most of us like to sleep and look at it as a basic necessity to survive just like eating, drinking and breathing. Many tend to get cranky or irritable due to the lack of sleep. However, there are some people in the world who also suffer from anxiety disorders related to sleep, prominent among which is a condition called Somniphobia.
The word Somniphobia is derived from Latin somnus meaning sleep and phobos meaning fear. Thus, Somniphobia is the fear of sleeping or falling asleep. It is also called ‘Hypnophobia’, the fear of being hypnotized, a condition where the person is literally made to go in a sleep-like state.
The fear of sleep is related to fear of the unknown. Often the sufferer is terrified of what might happen if s/he falls asleep. One fears being ‘out of control’. Many are afraid of having nightmares or fear being unable to ‘hear’ their loved ones call out to them.
Causes of Somniphobia
Somniphobia is related to a host of other phobias like fear of sleepwalking, fear of nightmares or fearing dying in sleep (Thanatophobia).
- Sleepwalking is one the typical causes of fear of sleep. The majority of sleepwalkers do something benign in this state, but they are so afraid it occurs in the first place, that they are afraid to go to sleep.
- Death is also known as the ‘big sleep’. Somniphobes feel very vulnerable whilst sleeping and believe that death and sleeping are unsettlingly similar conditions which leave them completely out of control. Edith Piaf, a French singer’s famous quote sums this up: “I fear sleep, as it is a form of death”.
- Some people tend to talk in their sleep. Most of it is gibberish, but they fear revealing important things or being out of control about what they are saying.
- Sleep paralysis is another cause of Somniphobia. This is the state when a person, upon waking up, experiences muscular paralysis. This might happen several times which leads to them fearing sleeping.
- People with existing anxiety disorders often find it hard to fall asleep. When they do, their sleep is more likely to be plagued with nightmares. Often they wake up in the middle of the night and cannot even remember their bad dreams. They find it difficult to fall back asleep. Such nightmares and sleep-panic becomes a vicious circle: their sleep deprivation leads to even greater anxiety of fear of falling sleep.
- Movies of the horror genre can sometimes trigger Somniphobia. Some folklore and cultures also talk of hags, witches and demons “settling on top of their hapless sleeping victims”.
- A direct/indirect negative or traumatic incidence, death of a loved one etc can also trigger this phobia.
Symptoms of fear of sleep phobia
Panic and anxiety attacks are the most common symptoms of fear of sleep phobia. Such people might display one of more of the following symptoms:
- Daytime fatigue and drowsiness
- Irritability, mood swings
- Inability to concentrate-hampered work productivity
- Tendency of falling sick frequently, having low energy levels etc.
Thus, symptoms of Somniphobia can lead to reduced memory, mental awareness and loss of control. It can be a debilitating condition that severely affects professional and personal life of the sufferer.
Treatment for overcoming the fear of sleep phobia
Many mental health forums are known to help individuals overcome their fear of sleep phobia. These online as well as offline support groups let people share their experiences and contribute ideas or remedies that have helped them overcome sleep phobia.
Relaxing mantras and chanting of “Om” before bedtime are known to help one relax and fall asleep. Meditation and Yoga as well as other mind body techniques like Tai Chi and qigong are all powerful remedies for overcoming Somniphobia.
Many sompniphobic individuals have also found relief by practicing deep breathing. Therapists also encourage phobics to write down their rational and irrational thoughts about sleeping which slowly enable them to enjoy the physical relaxation that sleep brings. Overtime, one starts to enjoy the process of sleeping by practicing these techniques.
Talk therapy, hypnotherapy, gradual desensitization and psychotherapy are other useful and effective ways of overcoming fear of sleep. Some doctors also prescribe anxiety reducing medicines for Somniphobia, but these must be taken as the last resort.