A Fear of Sleep: Somniphobia

Somniphobia, also known as Hypnophobia, is defined as the abnormal fear of falling asleep and includes the fear of being hypnotized. This fear effects a large number of the population and is generally linked to an Anxiety or Depressive Disorder. Usually triggered by the mind as a protection mechanism, somniphobia can be traced back to traumas having to do with sleep. Sleeping through a traumatic event like the death of a family member or even waking up on fire can be the root of the condition. Watching someone else on a movie or television show have a traumatic event occur linked with sleeping can also set this fear into action. The unconscious mind attaches emotion to situations, so depending on the scenario some people experience this constantly, while others depend on and respond to direct stimuli of some sort. Symptoms of this condition include nausea, rapid breathing/shortness of breath,  irregular heartbeat, sweating, feelings of dread, and panic attacks before or during sleep, but may differ from patient to patient.

While treatment is possible, therapy can take months to start working and most patients will almost indefinitely be exposed to their fear, which, in turn, worsens it. Although, some people with somniphobia can be cured in as little as twenty-four hours. As for the medications available, they only treat the symptoms and are known to have bad side effects. Treatments vary depending on the underlying cause. For example, some fear loss of control, which is more of the fear of never waking up or being killed. Some have a fear of being alone, others fear nightmares. The potential causes of this phobia are abundant and because of this, treatments can range from having a talk with a friend or reading a book, to medications and psychotherapy.

Finding an exact or even approximate percentage of people living with this fear is hard to do because of the various factors, but according to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), between 5.1 and 21.5 percent of Americans suffer from Phobias. (“Broken down by age and gender, the NIMH study found phobias were the most common psychiatric illness among women in all age groups and the second most common illness among men older than 25.”) For those experiencing somniphobia, some recommended treatments include reading before bed, or a meditation routine, and to start therapy. Depending on the medications available, I might prescribe them one to help with symptoms that might aid them in going to sleep until the therapy began working or the underlying cause was found.

Somniphobia, left untreated. can significantly impact life, health, and well-being. Concentration and work performance will decline and could result in loss of job. Fatigue will set in, causing everyday life to become a burden, and soon health will rapidly decline. A person without sleep for extended periods of time will begin to lose sanity and become a danger to their self and those around them.

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