Many people have trouble falling asleep. In some people, the sleep disorder is so extreme that they suffer from nervous conditions when going to bed. Fear of sleeping can lead to behavioral changes and health problems over time, says Dr. Hanne Horvath, Co-Founder and Chief Campaign Officer of the online therapy platform Hellobetter.
What is sleep anxiety?
dr Hanne Horvath: While the answer to this question seems quite logical, we should take a closer look at the fear of sleeping, because there can be completely different fears behind it. For example, the fear of the dark or the fear of nightmares. It can also play a role whether someone tends to have trouble falling asleep or struggles with anxiety about waking up at night. This can be the case, for example, with people who experience panic attacks at night. It's also possible that the thought of not waking up is frightening. Getting clear on these "fine points" can help you become an expert on your own fear of sleep. This can reduce the feeling of helplessness and support the search for solutions in a very targeted manner.
What are the symptoms of sleep anxiety?
Fear of sleeping, also known under the technical term hypnophobia, is one of many different sleep disorders that can plague us, along with insomnia or narcolepsy. Aside from the obvious symptom of anxiety when trying to fall asleep, there are a few other typical symptoms of the sleep disorder. Hypnophobia often results in a specific change in a person's behavior: they quickly feel overwhelmed, lack concentration, are easily irritable, nervous, restless and suffer from the persistent feeling of impending danger. Fear of sleep can also have physical effects on people, ranging from digestive problems, rapid heartbeat and breathing, excessive sweating and tense muscles to panic attacks.
What can be the causes?
The causes of anxiety about sleeping can be varied. Experience often plays a major role, we "learn" the fear of sleep unintentionally, so to speak. Those who cannot fall asleep and lie awake late at night, brooding or feeling lonely can develop negative feelings about sleep. Lying in your own bed can become a signal of stress and anxiety over time due to the unpleasant experiences. As a result, restful sleep becomes increasingly difficult.
Those who are afraid of shifting into another state of consciousness may be suffering from the fear of losing control. In order to sleep, we have to let go, become more relaxed and trust that nothing will happen to us at night and that we will wake up again. It is possible that these themes - letting go and trusting - also play a role in the waking state and are clearly reflected in the fear of sleeping.
How many and which people often suffer from it?
It is difficult to give a concrete assessment. In general, sleep disorders and especially the fear of falling asleep belong to the category of anxiety disorders, which are among the most common mental health disorders in Germany, but also in Europe. Affected by sleep disorders are those who already suffer from fears and/or phobias when they are awake.
How to prevent sleep anxiety?
Sleep anxiety can be prevented with good sleep hygiene. Some tips for a healthy sleep routine include:
How is sleep anxiety treated?
There are some tips that can help reduce anxiety about sleeping. First of all, it is advisable to try to get the problem under control on your own. However, if you do not experience any relief or even an increase in your fears, you should seek psychotherapeutic support.
Practice relaxation: If sleeping at night scares you, it can help to get used to a relaxed state during the day. For example, you can listen to an imaginary journey online or simply pay attention to your breathing for a few minutes. There are also courses where you can learn specific relaxation exercises.
Make yourself comfortable: It sounds trite, but it aims to make your bed a comfortable place where you feel comfortable again. You might want to change something in your bedroom to do this, such as rearranging the bed, changing the linens, or fluffing the duvet before you go to sleep. Such small rituals can contribute to the fact that things are not as usual, which brings movement into the typical process - where the fear usually occurs. Plus, the attention you give to your well-being is a nice exercise in self-care.
Watching the Fear: You may be thinking that making your bed won't magically make your fear of sleeping go away - it would be nice. So when you experience anxiety, you can try to use the anxiety itself as an aid to relaxation.
This can work by observing the fear without pursuing it, for example without actively pursuing the fear thoughts. It is helpful for this if you gain experience in breathing relaxation at the same time. Just as you can consciously perceive your breathing, you can also observe your fear. In addition, you can notice which elements make up the fear at all: Is the fear "only" an unpleasant feeling or does it also include thoughts and physical sensations? Notice these details without getting lost in them. Following this "inner drama" can help you calm down over time. Like watching dangerous fish behind a glass pane in an aquarium.