Get the fear before falling asleep? It could be somniphobia

Everything you need to know about somniphobia

Struggle with racing thoughts during the night? Terrified of falling asleep? You could be suffering from this little-known sleep condition.

Somniphobia is a type of anxiety disorder involving an intense fear of falling asleep or staying asleep, and can have an extremely debilitating impact on mental health and even physical wellbeing.

Approximately 4.25% of people – around 2.5 million in total – deal with the condition in the UK alone.

Comparatively, the NHS estimates that one in every three people struggle with insomnia, a sleep disorder more broadly involving difficulty falling or staying asleep. spoke with NSDR (Non-Sleep Deep Rest) Hypnotherapist Dipti Tait to dissect somniphobia, delving into coping mechanisms that’ll hopefully allow sufferers to grab some valuable shut-eye.

What causes somniphobia?

Somniphobia can be triggered by a range of factors, including ‘past traumatic experiences during sleep, anxiety, depression, or an underlying medical condition, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome’, explains Dipti.

‘In some cases,’ she adds, ‘it can also be triggered by a fear of losing control during sleep or the fear or having nightmares or sleepwalking.’

What are the symptoms?

Somniphobia can present both mentally and physically. Internally, it might manifest as:

  • Experiencing fear or anxiety when thinking about sleeping or as bedtime approaches
  • Delaying going to bed or staying up for as long as possible
  • Having panic attacks when bedtime arrives
  • Struggling to focus on things that aren’t sleep-related
  • Feeling irritable or having mood swings.

The condition can also facilitate physical symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea or stomach issues
  • Tightness in the chest or an increased heart rate when thinking about sleep specifically
  • Sweating, chills or hyperventilation
  • Decreased immune function.

Tips and tricks to cope with somniphobia

If those symptoms ring true for you, there are a number of ways to manage somniphobia.

Create a calming bedtime routine

Don’t have a bedtime routine? Try and create one, whether that involves reading a book, taking a bath or listening to some white noise, introducing some regularity might help to ease any sleep-related anxiety.

‘A routine can help signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep’, says Dipti.

Part of that bedtime routine might be taking some time to create a sleep-conducive environment. This is also known as sleep hygiene.

‘Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool, and that your bed is comfortable and supportive’, she adds.

Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can also help to ease any anxieties, keeping the mind and body calm and promoting rest.

Dipti suggests deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualisation exercises, and there are a range of apps and programs to guide your nightly wind-down.

Avoid stimulating activities before bed

Engaging in any activities that might stimulate your brain – such as exercise, watching the TV or doomscrolling – should be avoided before bed.

Intense exercise increases adrenaline in the system, which can contribute to our brains ticking over well into the night.

Likewise, steering clear of any negative media content that could potentially get your stress levels rising (Netflix thrillers and gloomy news headlines included) is an important act of self-care.

Dipti concludes: ‘Remember that overcoming somniphobia takes time and effort, but with the right coping mechanisms and treatment, it is possible to improve your sleep and enjoy a much better quality of life.

‘If your somniphobia is severe or is affecting your daily life, consider seeking professional help from a NSDR hypnotherapist who specialises in anxiety or sleep disorders.’

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