Fear of Sleep: A self-help guide

To those who sleep well it may be difficult to understand how someone could come to actually fear sleep, considering how sleep — like food — is one of our most basic and primal needs.  Yet of all the questions we see, fear of sleep is one of the most common.

Fear can be a potent disruptor of sleep, and often very difficult to overcome.  To an insomniac — who may lie in bed for hour after maddening hour, becoming increasingly frustrated and even angry at his or her inability to sleep — the emotion of fear can become very real when a part of the brain known as the amygdala becomes involved.  The amygdala is a deep inner structure of the brain that is involved with the processing of fear and conditioning of the fear response.

Fear of sleep may originate from two common sources.  One is the fear of losing consciousness, of losing awareness, of losing control, all of which are an inherent part of a normal sleep experience.  If you are in an unsafe sleeping environment, this fear is understandable.  But for those of us who more often than not are in a perfectly safe bedroom, this emotion is probably more similar to the irrational fear of going away and never returning, similar to a fear of death.

A second source of sleep fear is related to the consequences of sleep deprivation.  Most of us, and especially insomniacs, are well aware of the importance of good sleep, and of the negative impact on performance resulting from sleep deprivation from any cause.  One may even fear losing sanity or having a nervous breakdown after an extended period of no sleep, fragmented sleep, or unrefreshing sleep.

The fear response to sleep can sometimes be conditioned upon faulty and inaccurate beliefs about sleep.  Such as the idea that one must get an absolutely perfect 8 hours of sleep to function well the next day, a belief that soldiers, firemen, astronauts, medical residents and many others have consistently demonstrated to be false.

When the emotion of fear gets involved with insomnia, anxiety and worry about sleep are immensely compounded.  But because the amygdala is not involved with higher order thinking skills, this suggests a potential solution.

One potential solution is to use rational, higher order thinking skills to identify and disregard inaccurate, false, and overblown fears about sleep.  Doing so has the effect of countering the amygdala’s conditioned fear response, and helping the mind and body let go, a necessary precursor to sleep.

Rational thinking is a tool anyone can use, anytime.  It involves first identifying these negative, fearful thoughts about sleep, and understanding how they are excessive, inaccurate, and overblown.  Then, with deliberate intent, responding with more accurate and positive thoughts about sleep, beliefs which are scientifically based and grounded in reality.

This fact-based thinking process is known as cognitive restructuring.  It is entirely drug-free and can be a permanent solution to counter fear of sleep.  For those who are the self-help type, many good online resources are readily available that utilize cognitive restructuring as part of an overall sleep improvement plan.

So if you’ve been bothered by a lack of sleep, or even fearful of insomnia, rest assured there are effective ways to help yourself sleep better by countering this fear.  By using cognitive restructuring and other sleep training methods, you can improve sleep safely, permanently, and without the use of drugs.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fear, Health, Insomnia, sleep

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