Everyone has struggled to get to sleep at least once in their life, whether it be due to stress, insomnia, kids or even fear. Young children will tend to create images they think they see that aren’t really there; a jumper in the closet becomes a monster reaching out to grab that foot you left hanging over the end of the bed (admit it, we’ve all had that fear). For some people however, sleep is a deeply dreaded time and they will be petrified at the idea of drifting off. This can be for several reasons, including nightmares and even the fear of death. We’re going to explore why these fears can occur and what remedies are available for those struggling to get some rest.
Sleep dread is quite a common sleep disorder that is heavily linked to insomnia. It is caused ironically, by stress relating to how little sleep one is getting. This means that when people aren’t sleeping, they begin to worry about how little sleep they’re getting. This in turn causes their insomnia or stress to get worse and makes it even harder to fall asleep. It is a loop of stress and no sleep that can’t be fixed by worrying. Another contributing factor is whilst we grow older our sleep cycles become shorter and shorter as we do not need as much sleep, which can lead some people to think that they’re no longer getting the amount of sleep they need to handle a full day. When you worry that you’re not getting enough sleep, an internal fear emerges that says, “going to sleep will just mean waking up without enough energy, so let’s just not sleep”. While sleep dread isn’t as serious as other fears, it is still a very real and widespread sleep disorder that should be addressed right away.
Nightmares are a pretty simple one. Everybody’s had one and everybody hates them. Nightmares can be caused by pretty much anything but are more commonly found to effect children and people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When we have a nightmare, our body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin and histamine. What these chemicals do is put our minds into a state of hyper-alertness and can wake us up during sleep. Since our brain is now alert, we struggle to get back to sleep and miss out on crucial restoration time. The less restoration time your brain has, the more likely you are to experience broken sleep, and so on.
Fear of Death
The fear of dying in your sleep can lead to a massive loss of sleep. This fear is usually induced from trauma experienced in the past (someone you know may have passed in their sleep), or from a fear of dying in general. Most people who feel this way are afraid to sleep because they fear they may never wake up. What this results in is hours upon hours of missed sleep, losing dire restoration for their brain and therefore causing the fear to be even more irrational.
It is important to recognise the fears for what they are, perceived. Make a note that in today’s modern world we are safer than ever, and most of these fears are considered irrational as there is a much higher chance of them never happening as opposed to it occurring. Affirming this in your mind will help to put you at ease.
Keeping distracted from your fearful thoughts is another great method for getting into a peaceful sleep. Aiming your focus towards relaxation methods will help you to forget the fear and calm your body in the process. Focus on relaxing your muscles so that you feel more comfortable in your current environment. Once your body is ready to rest, your mind should be as well. These fears and sleep troubles may go deeper if you still have trouble sleeping using these methods. If that is the case then we recommend contacting your healthcare provider as they can recommend professional help or medication, depending on your situation.