Are you afraid to sleep? The Sleep Doctor shares how to conquer Somniphobia

7 minutes read -
A man sitting on a bed due to somniphobia
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Summary: Are you scared to fall asleep? You could very well have somniphobia, the fear of going to sleep. Discover what causes it and how you can overcome it.
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For most of us, crawling under the covers at the end of the day is pure bliss. But for some, it’s a descent into anxiety.

This isn’t a case of nighttime monsters, though. This is somniphobia.

If you’re the kind to be afraid of getting some shuteye at night, learning how to overcome that fear might do wonders.

As Dr. Michael Breus, a.k.a. The Sleep Doctor, says in his The Mastery of Sleep Quest on Mindvalley, “I believe that the world would be a better place if everybody slept better.”

What is somniphobia?

It’s more commonly known as sleep phobia, but the “somniphobia” definition is the fear of falling asleep. The very idea of it triggers intense anxiety, making it difficult for the person suffering from it to relax and rejuvenate.

The fact of the matter is, there are more than 10 million adults in the U.S. who suffer from one kind of phobia or another. And all of them, including somniphobia, are manifestations of anxiety disorders, which, like post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder, are based on fear.

Somniphobes have a deep-seated worry about what happens while they’re asleep. This could include fearing nightmares, sleep paralysis, or even death.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just a nighttime problem; the fear can really mess with your daily life. Lack of sleep or avoiding it altogether can lead to feeling wiped out, which hurts both your mind and body. It can, then, spill over into your day, making it hard to live your best life and feel good overall.

How to diagnose it

Diagnosing somniphobia isn’t as simple as just admitting you have a fear of sleep. Doctors need a clearer picture—they’ll typically ask detailed questions about your sleep habits, how you feel emotionally around bedtime, and any past events that might be linked to your fear. This might also involve discussing your sleep history and any traumatic experiences you’ve had while sleeping.

On top of psychological assessments, the doctor might recommend a sleep study to rule out other sleep disorders. These evaluations can help pinpoint specific triggers and patterns in your anxiety around sleep.

So getting a professional diagnosis is crucial. It paves the way for the right somniphobia treatment plan, ultimately leading you toward a healthier relationship with sleep.

What are the symptoms of Somniphobia?

This type of phobia doesn’t stop at fear; it can manifest in a variety of physical ways, making getting a good night’s rest even harder.

So what do somniphobia symptoms look like? Here are some common ones:

  • Increased heart rate, trembling, or sweating at the mere thought of sleep
  • Shortness of breath, a racing heart, and even panic attacks
  • Difficulty falling asleep or needing someone nearby to fall asleep
  • Frequently waking throughout the night
  • Frequent disturbing dreams related to sleep or what might happen during sleep
  • Chronic daytime fatigue
  • Irritability or depression due to sleep deprivation
  • Difficulty focusing or remembering

With all these symptoms, the question then arises: Can somniphobia kill you?

The answer is no. According to Dr. Breus, while sleep (or the lack thereof) does affect immune functions, it’s rarely the sole cause of health issues. 

What Causes Somniphobia?

Somniphobia can arise from various factors. Here are some common ones:

  • Trauma-related nightmares can cause a person to dread re-experiencing the trauma in dreams.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2023 study highlights a connection between PTSD and somniphobia, especially for first responders with nightmares and hyperarousal (trouble relaxing).
  • Continuous exposure to traumatic events may cause the person to become overly vigilant during sleep, fearing vulnerability.
  • Engaging in behaviors to avoid sleep or to make sleep feel safer, like leaving lights on, can worsen the fear over time.

While we tend to view things in a more negative light the more sleep deprived we are, sleep deprivation does not cause anxiety; it doesn’t cause depression,” Dr. Breus explains. “It can only make it feel worse. Usually, there’s another source, which may be responsible for the mental health issue itself.”

A scared child hiding underneath the blanket

How to overcome Somniphobia: 5 expert-backed tips from the sleep doctor

It’s no secret that getting quality rest is crucial for both your physical and mental health. So if you feel like you’re struggling with somniphobia, there are steps you can take to overcome your fear and get more deep sleep.

Here are some tips from Dr. Breus that can help:

1. Challenge negative thoughts

Somniphobia can be fueled by limiting beliefs about sleep. These are negative thoughts you hold as truths that prevent you from getting a good night’s rest. For instance, you might believe, “If I don’t fall asleep right away, I’ll never get to sleep at all.”

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify and challenge these unhelpful beliefs.  A therapist can guide you to:

  • Recognize your limiting beliefs. What negative thoughts come up when you try to sleep?
  • Examine the evidence. Are these thoughts realistic? Are there times you’ve gotten good sleep despite not falling asleep immediately?
  • Replace limiting beliefs with more realistic and empowering ones. For example, “Even if I take some time to fall asleep, I can still get a good night’s rest.”

Alternatively, hypnotherapy and lucid dreaming can also help to address negative beliefs or anxieties associated with sleep. 

For the former, a hypnotherapist can guide you through relaxation techniques and positive suggestions to address negative associations with sleep. And with the latter, lucid dreaming may help you confront your fears within a safe dream environment.

The thing is, everyone can learn how to sleep better, according to Dr. Breus. However, he adds that thinking about sleep in a limiting way will “actually prevent you from being able to fall asleep as well as stay asleep.”

2. Use relaxation techniques

What can greatly ease the symptoms of somniphobia is finding ways to relax. Here’s what The Sleep Doctor recommends to create a bedtime routine that prepares your mind and body for sleep:

  • Deep breathing. Dr. Breus teaches the 4-7-8 breathing method, developed by Navy SEALs—inhale for four seconds, hold the breath for seven, and exhale slowly for eight seconds. This practice helps decrease your heart rate and prepares your body for sleep.
  • Power Down Hour can systematically relax you before bed. Divide the last hour before sleep into three segments:
    • First 20 minutes: Complete necessary tasks to avoid morning anxiety.
    • Next 20 minutes: Focus on hygiene—consider a hot bath to raise your core body temperature, which helps trigger sleepiness.
    • Final 20 minutes: Engage in calming activities like reading or meditation, avoiding stimulating activities or screens.
  • Blue light awareness—the kind that can inhibit melatonin production and disrupt sleep. Wearing blue-light-blocking glasses during your Power Down Hour can protect your sleep cycle by reducing blue light exposure, ensuring your body’s natural sleep signals remain strong.

Remember, sleep is not an on-off switch,” Dr. Breus points out. “There’s a process that needs to occur. And you’ve got to give it the amount of time it needs to happen.”

3. Create a sleep-conducive environment

Sleepless nights aren’t always about your body and what’s going on in your mind, according to The Sleep Doctor. It turns out, your bedroom could be “a big part of the equation.” 

Here are a few things you can optimize to improve your sleep:

  • Block light from entering your room by investing in blackout curtains or an eye mask.
  • Create a quiet environment by using earplugs or a white noise machine to block out unwanted sounds.
  • Maintain a cool bedroom temperature. Most people sleep best in a room between 60 and 67°F (15.5–19.4°C).
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide proper support for your body. Dr. Breus recommends replacing your pillow every 18 months and your mattress every 7–10 years.
  • Avoid screen time for at least an hour before bed.

So go into your bedroom and take a look around. Is the mattress too hard? Are there clothes thrown all over the place? Is the lighting too bright?

Your answers to these questions might be what you need to push you to transform your bedroom into a sanctuary.

4. Skip the naps; try NSDR instead

Research has shown that it can help improve focus, accuracy, concentration, creativity, and critical thinking. Additionally, a quick nap can lower stress levels, improve your mood, and provide a quick energy boost.

However, naps, as Dr. Breus points out, aren’t for everyone.

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely experiencing some type of sleep issue, and your circadian rhythms may be disrupted.” So napping, he explains, can make some people’s depression worse.

Additionally, for insomniacs, napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep at a scheduled time at night. As Dr. Breus highlights, “Naps should work with your nighttime sleep routine, not undermine it.”

So what can you do if you’re hitting exhaustion? NSDR (non-sleep deep rest) might be the best solution.

It isn’t technically a nap because it doesn’t involve sleep. Rather, it’s a relaxation technique that promotes feelings of rest and rejuvenation without entering the sleep stages.

5. Build better sleep habits

Your daily habits can affect your sleep. So make a few tweaks here and there—it can make a major difference.

Here are a few things Dr. Breus recommends doing:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This regulates your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening, as it can disrupt sleep.
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime, which can cause indigestion and discomfort.
  • Get sunlight in the morning. It helps reset your circadian rhythm.

In many cases, it will take, oftentimes, longer than seven days of a new sleep habit for it to really kick into gear and for us to feel a big difference,” he says. Small steps lead to bigger steps, but for it to work, it requires you to take the first one.

Futureproof your well-being

Millions struggle with sleep, whether it be from somniphobia or other reasons. If you’re one who does, there is a solution.

Dr. Michael Breus, a leading sleep expert, has helped countless people find restful sleep. His Mindvalley Quest, The Mastery of Sleep, offers a personalized approach based on your unique sleep chronotype. You’ll also learn your ideal sleep schedule, how many hours you truly need, and how to wake up feeling energized—all without an alarm.

The great thing is, you can gain access to the first few lessons when you sign up for a Mindvalley account—for free.

So don’t settle for restless nights. As Dr. Breus says, “Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep.”

Welcome in.

Watch the First Lesson of the Quest

Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D Is America’s Most Trusted Sleep Doctor, Teaches the Mastery of Sleep

Discover why the world’s top performers sleep an extra 90 minutes more than the average person, and discover a five-step formula for the best sleep of your lifeGet started for free

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Written by

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Expertise by

Dr. Michael Breus is the trainer of Mindvalley’s The Mastery of Sleep Quest. He is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Breus is on the clinical advisory board of The Dr. Oz Show and is a regular contributor on the show (39 times). His topic of expertise is the science of sleep and Peak Performance.

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