Sleep phobia: symptoms and causes of somniphobia

August 31, 2020 4 mins read
Sleep phobia: symptoms and causes of somniphobia

Sleep phobia is the fear of going to bed. For most of us, the thought of slipping between crisp clean sheets, tucking in our feet in and drifting off into dreamland is a welcome one. But for those who have sleep phobia, the fear of sleep can turn the thought of going to bed into a waking nightmare.

What is sleep phobia?

Sleep phobia (somniphobia) is a disorder in which feelings of anxiety become more heightened as bedtime draws closer. People who have sleep phobia typically tend to worry about sleep, avoid going to bed and can experience panic attacks.

When you get some much-needed shut-eye, your body repairs itself while you cycle through light and deep sleep phases, effectively letting your brain rest, produce hormones and recharge itself. Sleep phobia interrupts this natural process and negatively affects your sleep quality.

Symptoms of somniphobia

You might suffer from somniphobia if you recognise the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety at night. As soon as the dark sets in, you start feeling a sense of dread coupled with stress. These emotions could be a sign that you are not looking forward to sleep.
  • Panic attacks. Shortness of breath and an increased heart rate are characteristics of a panic attack. If this happens when you think of sleep or as the evening draws closer, this can point to sleep phobia.
  • Mood swings. Do your emotions go up and down? Are your moods inconsistent? This change in emotional balance when thinking of sleep could occur when you have somniphobia.
  • Feeling nauseous. An upset stomach and queasiness as you near bedtime can be a symptom of sleep phobia.

What causes sleep phobia?

There are many possible causes that could contribute to somniphobia, but some of the most common causes include sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and trauma.

Sleep disorders

Somniphobia has links to other disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea. To discover why you feel afraid of sleeping, it’s essential to note what happens while you sleep. Sleep apnea occurs when there’s an obstruction in your airway. You may wake up suddenly, gasping for breath, which can affect how you feel about sleep.


People with anxiety are prone to insomnia, but sleep itself is not usually the cause of somniphobia. Sometimes, the fear of what happens while you’re asleep is what can keep you up. You could be worried that you’ll sleepwalk or talk, linking your sleep to a feeling of distress.


A scary dream that is enough to leave you breaking into a sweat and unable to doze off peacefully again, could cause you to fear bedtime.


The mind can link a traumatic experience with sleep, and this can be a trigger as you associate sleep with a painful memory.

How to overcome your fear of sleeping

Is your fear of sleep affecting your waking life? By practising some healthy habits you can take back control of your sleep.

Practise good sleep hygiene

Your bedroom should be an oasis of serenity. Clean bedding, good lighting, a breezy atmosphere and comfort can help to reduce distress or anxiety associated with sleeping.

Create a calm sleep environment

To counter the anxiety caused by sleep phobia, create a calm environment by keeping TVs and radios out of the bedroom. Make sure your room is not too hot or cold, and light some aromatic candles to cultivate serenity.

Put your thoughts on paper

Journaling is a therapeutic activity. The act of writing down your experiences and how you feel about them can help you work through your daily experiences in a mindful way, or help you deal with past traumas.

Talk to someone

Have a chat with someone you can trust about your fears and how they affect you. You can also find professional help and schedule a therapy session with a sleep coach to talk through the possible causes of your somniphobia.

Prioritise sleep

Getting into a healthy sleeping pattern which reduces the symptoms of sleep phobia may take some time, but it’s worth the effort as you take your power back. Paying attention to your mental health and talking about your stressors and anxiety are all ways to relieve somniphobia.

Getting enough sleep is important but getting the right kind of sleep will leave you feeling happier, refreshed and better equipped to deal with any challenges life throws your way.