What Is Somniphobia?

sleep stress

Tero Vesalainen / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Somniphobia is an intense fear of sleep. It’s what happens when stress and anxiety about sleeping or falling asleep turn into a phobia.

People with somniphobia experience excessive worry surrounding sleep, may have trouble concentrating during the day, may delay going to sleep, and may experience physical sensations like rapid heartbeat and nausea when faced with the prospect of going to sleep.

Phobias like somniphobia are common in the population: 12.5% of people deal with phobias at some point in their lives, and in any given year, about 9% of adults experience a specific phobia. While we don't know exactly how many people experience somniphobia, research shows more than 40 million adults in the U.S. have a chronic sleep disorder.

Symptoms of Somniphobia

People with somniphobia don’t just have stress or anxiety about sleep. Fear takes over your life and makes it difficult to function when you have a phobia. You think about the thing you fear constantly. Each thought you have about it makes you more anxious, and you try to avoid it as much as possible. The fear you feel isn’t rational. Falling asleep isn’t going to harm people who have somniphobia, but it feels to them like it will.

Some common symptoms of somniphobia include:

  • Delaying bedtime so you don’t have to face sleep
  • Having obsessive thoughts about sleep during the day and at night
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate in your daily life because of severe worry
  • Having a short fuse and being prone to mood swings
  • Needing distractions during bedtime, such as having the lights or TV on
  • Physical symptoms of panic, such as labored breathing, chest tightness, racing heartbeat, clammy hands, and nausea

Children who have somniphobia may strongly resist bedtime, cry or tantrum frequently, not be able to sleep alone, and have frequent night wakings. Speak to your pediatrician if you suspect your child may have somniphobia.

Diagnosis of Somniphobia

If you have symptoms of somniphobia, your first step should be to reach out to your healthcare provider. You will be given a physical and asked questions about your health and well-being. Your physician may want to rule out medical reasons for your symptoms or test you for possible sleep disorders. Sometimes medications you are taking for central nervous system disorders can cause phobia or anxiety symptoms.

If it’s clear that you are experiencing a phobia, you will likely be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist, who will discuss therapy and/or medication options with you.

Causes of Somniphobia

Doctors and psychiatrists aren’t sure what causes somniphobia, and it’s likely that the causes may vary from one person to another. Somniphobia is often linked to certain sleep parasomnias (sleep disorders). It’s possible that having experienced a sleep disorder makes a person more fearful of falling asleep.

Sleep disorders associated with somniphobia are:

Many people with somniphobia have a fear of dying in their sleep. Additionally, there are strong links between somniphobia and PTSD. For example, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that fear of sleep may be a symptom of PTSD related to nervous system changes and the hypervigilant state that occurs during PTSD.

Treatment for Somniphobia

Somniphobia is usually treated the way other phobias are treated, with a combination of therapy and medication.

Therapy for Somniphobia

Different therapy modalities are used to treat phobias like somniphobia, such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy teaches patients to become more mindful of the different thoughts they are having so that they can understand how their thoughts influence their feelings and behaviors. Research has found that CBT is an effective treatment for fear of sleep, especially for people who also have PTSD.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i): This is a specific type of CBT that focuses on sleep issues and fears. CBT-i has five components: relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene education, stimulus control, cognitive awareness/restructuring, and sleep consolidation practices. The therapy is thought to be effective and safe when it comes to treating sleep-related issues.
  • Exposure therapy: This type of therapy offers patients a safe and carefully planned way to expose themselves to the thing that they fear. Exposure therapy is a common practice used to address specific phobias.

Medication

Certain medications can be used to help with anxiety and phobias. Medications usually work best when combined with therapy. Medication options for somniphobia include:

Coping With Somniphobia

People with somniphobia not only experience feelings of panic and anxiety surrounding sleep, but are also often chronically sleep-deprived, which only makes the emotional impact of the phobia worse. Chronic sleep deprivation can also worsen your health, and make you more prone to high blood pressure, heart issues, strokes, and diabetes.

That’s why making sure to practice good sleep hygiene can really help. This might look like:

  • Making an effort to turn off phones and other devices an hour or two before bedtime
  • Exercising regularly
  • Adding mindfulness and meditation into your daily routine
  • Playing relaxing music at bedtime
  • Turning off work-related emails and not engaging in to-do list items close to bedtime
  • Avoiding stimulants like coffee, chocolate, or nicotine too close to bedtime

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing somniphobia can be extremely challenging and affect all aspects of your life. Many people with phobias feel ashamed of what they are experiencing and find it hard to reach out for help. It’s important to understand that you are not alone and that help is out there.

Phobias are very common, and they are treatable. Please share what you are going through with a trusted friend, and reach out to your healthcare provider or therapist for support. You deserve to feel well and more like yourself again.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Somniphobia (Fear of Sleep).

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia.

  3. Samra CK, Abdijadid S. Specific Phobia. StatPearls Publishing. 2022.

  4. Pruiksma KE, Taylor DJ, Ruggero C, et al. A psychometric study of the Fear of Sleep Inventory-short form (FoSI-SF). Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2014;10(5):551-558. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3710

  5. Kanady JC, Talbot LS, Maguen S, et al. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia Reduces Fear of Sleep in Individuals With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2018;14(7):1193-1203. doi:10.5664/jcsm.7224

  6. American Psychological Association. What Is Exposure Therapy?

  7. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Sleep Disorders.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons.