If something characterizes phobias, it is their variety. Virtually any phenomenon that we can turn into concepts is capable of giving rise to a phobia, if the right circumstances exist: no matter how irrational it is to link that feeling of fear and anguish to a specific stimulus, situation or thought.
Somniphobia, or phobia of sleeping, is an example of this. Most people understand that sleep is part of normal, day to day; However, there are those who live the need to sleep as if it were a nightmare.
In this article we will see how somniphobia is treated in psychological therapy , and how the improvement process of patients experiencing this anxiety disorder develops.
- Related article: ” Types of phobias: exploring fear disorders“
What is somniphobia?
As we have anticipated, somniphobia is the pathological fear of sleep. Specifically, it is a specific phobia in which the idea or feeling of going to sleep generates moments of very intense stress, which can even resemble panic attacks.
This means that this type of phobia is characterized not so much by what happens while sleeping as by what happens when anticipating that one will fall asleep . Those who suffer from somniphobia feel very intense discomfort in the last hours of the day, when they feel that the time is approaching when they will start to feel sleepy and in which everyone will sleep. In extreme cases, discomfort can appear just by thinking about the possibility of sleeping.
On the other hand, somniphobia can also go hand in hand with similar alterations, such as the fear of being hypnotized, since it is very easy to relate both states of consciousness and consider them similar.
The typical symptoms of somniphobia are those of all specific phobias in general; in this case, the only thing that changes is the type of stimuli and situations that favor their appearance. Some of the most frequent the following:
- Acceleration of blood pressure.
- Catastrophic thoughts about what’s going to happen.
- Increased sensitivity to any stimulus.
- Increased heart rate.
- Accelerated breathing.
- Need to “escape” from the situation.
To these typical symptoms, in this case we can add another specific one for somniphobia: sleep and fatigue due to problems with sleeping little or almost nothing.
As with all psychological disorders, there is no single cause of somniphobia, but many . There is a component of genetic predisposition to develop anxiety problems, although this alone is not decisive: no one will experience this phobia just because they have certain gene variants.
In specific phobias, the most important causes seem to be those that arise from past experiences, from learning understood in a broad sense.
Thus, situations that have been perceived as problematic, even if at the time they did not cause much discomfort or special anguish, with the passage of time can take hold in our memory and excite, favoring the appearance of phobias.
On the other hand, the causes that the patient identifies as the reason for his fear of the act of sleeping can also vary . In some cases it is the fear that something bad will happen while sleeping, and therefore it would be a fear of lack of control over oneself and the environment. In other cases, what causes discomfort is the idea of losing consciousness, something that can be associated with death or coma.
In any case, patients with somniphobia (and with the rest of phobias in general) usually recognize that their fears are irrational, and that the problem is not so much in the thoughts and ideas by which that fear is expressed, as in the emotional states that escape the norms of logic.
- You may be interested: ” The 7 main sleep disorders“
How is somniphobia treated in therapy?
When those who suffer from somniphobia go to the psychologist for professional care, the techniques and strategies used in therapy vary depending on the characteristics and needs of each patient. However, there are several therapeutic resources that are used more frequently than others; At Psicomaster we use the most effective ones to treat this and many other phobias, both in adults and in the youngest, and we know from experience that psychological intervention is very effective in this class of disorders.
One of these resources is the systematic exposition , in which the psychologist presents a situation linked to the phobic stimulus and creates a context in which the patient can face that source of anxiety in a safe environment and where everything is controlled. To do this, sometimes we work out imaginative exercises, sometimes we look for more real contexts, and we have even started to develop forms of therapy against phobias using Virtual Reality systems.
In addition, the professional constantly adjusts the level of difficulty of these challenges so that the patient can progress until reaching a point where the symptoms have reduced so much that they are hardly a problem.
Another way to combat somniphobia in psychotherapy is by using training in relaxation exercises , which help not let anxiety lead the patient to lose control over their actions. Normally these exercises are based on breathing and awareness of how relaxation moments are experienced, so as not to focus attention on what causes discomfort. The objective is to associate the situations of discomfort due to somniphobia to the moments in which anxiety is reduced thanks to relaxation techniques.
Cognitive restructuring is another therapeutic technique that is especially useful in cases where there are irrational ideas that fuel the intensity of the phobia. For example, if someone tends to believe that there is a risk of the heart stopping during sleep, or if they fear sleep paralysis, in therapy situations can be created in which the patient questions these ideas , stopping to think about how far they adjust to reality and are a risk that justifies that constant alertness.
The creation of negotiated routines and self-instructions between the patient and the psychotherapist also helps a lot. Simply organizing time better also helps mitigate the power that sleepiness has in yourself. In this way, situations are avoided in which the patient constantly postpones the time to go to bed (which generates tension and anticipation of the danger that reinforces the fear of sleeping).