CBT Is a Safe and Effective Treatment for Somniphobia
The science of sleep is infinitely fascinating. It is an interesting point where neurology, psychology, and wellness overlap. And rest is so crucial to our physical and mental health. Yet there are some people who are afraid to go to sleep or have a fear of dying when they fall asleep. This phobia is called sleep anxiety or somniphobia.
How Does It Feel to Have Somniphobia?
“I usually get attacks of anxiety when I’m just about to go to sleep. That point of going from awake to asleep – as I slip into sleep – I feel like I’m dying…It’s scary because I have shortness of breath, I start to panic, feel dizzy and disoriented. I can feel my heartbeat faster and it feels like it’s coming out of my chest. When I’m really tired, it’s so difficult because every time I fall asleep, my body jolts awake even though I’m exhausted,” explains Poppy, a young adult patient who sought out treatment for somniphobia.
“It sounds so irrational, and I realize that it is irrational, but the physical symptoms are so real that it makes it very difficult to go to sleep…I would really like some help with coping with that anxiety and irrational fear that I am going to die every time I go to sleep because I’m very tired.”
For Poppy and others struggling with fear and anxiety at bedtime, there are successful treatment options. First, we want to review some basic information about somniphobia and how it is diagnosed. Then, we discuss the recommended course of therapy.
What Is Sleep Anxiety or Somniphobia?
Sleep anxiety, also known as somniphobia is a sleep disorder that describes discomfort sleeping alone or a general fear of falling asleep. Those who experience somniphobia explain it as extreme anxiety that makes it difficult to get to sleep even when they are tired. It is often associated with other disorders that cause negative sleep experiences, including sleep paralysis, frequent nightmares, night terrors, and parasomnias.
Are There Any Risk Factors for Sleep Anxiety?
Risk factors for somniphobia include other sleep disorders and negative sleep experiences, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and other medical conditions. Those with a family history of anxiety and sleep disorders are also more likely to experience somniphobia. This type of phobia is more common among women and children.
What Are the Symptoms of Somniphobia?
There are both psychological and physical symptoms that come with somniphobia. These include:
- Fear and anxiety at bedtime,
- Feeling distressed or dread as bedtime approaches,
- Choosing to stay up late and sleep procrastination,
- Cyclical and racing thoughts,
- Tightness in the chest,
- Panic attacks,
- Sweating and chills,
- Faster heart rate,
- Sleep deprivation and related symptoms,
- Fatigue and lack of energy during the day,
- Nausea or lack of appetite.
What is the Difference Between Somniphobia and Insomnia?
The two issues are similar, but not interchangeable. Somniphobia is an anxiety disorder and a sense of fear that keeps people from sleeping even when they are tired. Common fears that fuel this problem are connected to health problems, the idea of dying, worrying about nightmares or nighttime behaviors.
Insomnia, on the other hand, is a chronic sleep disorder that makes it difficult for people to fall asleep or stay asleep. Insomniacs tend to stay awake late, or wake up early, no longer feeling sleepy.
Can Somniphobia be Linked to Insomnia?
Yes. Not everyone who has insomnia is afraid of falling asleep, though those with sleep anxiety do present a form of insomnia. At the same time, sleep deprivation caused by insomnia can lead to a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder or make the symptoms worse.
How Can I Stop Sleep Anxiety?
Generally, the same tips for improving sleep hygiene also apply to those who have sleep anxiety. These recommendations range from keeping a set bedtime and wakeup time throughout the week to meditation and mindfulness. The expectations and routines that you have surrounding sleep are important because somniphobia is, in part, a psychological issue.
That is why cognitive behavioral therapy is an especially effective treatment for somniphobia.
How Can Sleep Anxiety be Treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
There are a few different treatment options available for those with somniphobia, or sleep anxiety. These include exposure therapy, relaxation techniques, and medications, such as benzodiazepines, beta blockers, and antidepressants. Before writing a prescription for medication to help you sleep, however, the American College of Physicians advising trying CBT.
This clinical therapy works to change your perception of sleep and create a more positive approach to bedtime. There are different therapeutic methods involved in CBT, such as sleep restriction and stimulus control. Part of the therapy is also meant to address anxiety and your specific fears about sleep. Studies have shown that CBT is an effective solution for insomnia, while also safe and drug-free.
What Does CBT Feel Like?
My behavioral therapist “taught me how to ride the wave, as opposed to fighting it. Because you can’t stop a wave, you have to learn to go with it. So, don’t avoid the situation but learn to cope with it when it arises,” said Poppy after starting cognitive behavioral therapy.
“One way to combat the fear is through breathing, which I found is really helpful. Breathing is so simple and, if you ground yourself and use it as an anchor, it can be really helpful in difficult scenarios. In a couple of recent sessions, we focused on how amazing the brain is and how we can create imagery in our head. If we can create the scenes, we can also create scenes of calm rather than anxiety. So, I’m working to create calm sensations…
“In the last session, we went over everything that I learned in terms of how I think about sleep and the way I breath. We talked about the need to harness my emotions and trying to anchor my anxiety. Now, I can honestly say that I sleep like a baby! It’s very surprising. I was a bit skeptical to begin with…but I can actually sleep at night really well.”
Related articles: Research Shows that Drug-Free CBTi Treatment for Insomnia is Effective.
Find a Solution for Your Sleep Problems
Sleep Health Solutions of Ohio is equipped with to provide doctors and patients with diagnostic information for a wide range of sleep disorders. We can help determine what is keep you up at night, find the right treatment option for you, and monitor your progress towards better sleep health. Call our office for more information.