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Fear of sleep (hypnophobia): causes, symptoms and treatment

Fear of sleep (hypnophobia): causes, symptoms and treatment

June 14, 2024

Phobias are very frequent anxiety disorders, and one of the main causes of visits to psychology centers. In addition to classic phobias, such as fear of flying (aerophobia) or fear of heights (acrophobia), there are less common phobias, which you can learn in our article "The 15 purest phobias that exist."

Some phobias may not be a big problem for the person who suffers, since the presence of the phobic stimulus is unusual. Now, other phobias are really crippling, like is the case of fear of sleep, which is called hypnophobia, oneirophobia and somniphobia .

In this article we will discuss this phobia and explain its causes, symptoms and consequences.

What is hypnophobia

Phobias are anxiety disorders that are characterized because the person who suffers feels an irrational fear towards a stimulus (situation, object, animal, etc.). One of its main symptoms is extreme anxiety and the avoidance of the feared stimulus on the part of the affected as a result of the malaise that it suffers.

There are many types of phobias, as you can see in our article "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear", and one of the most disabling is the fear of sleeping, because this act is necessary for the human being and provides many benefits for health. People who do not rest properly see their quality of life and well-being, both physical and mental, deteriorated.

Sleeping phobia usually occurs at any age, when the person has to go to bed, thinking that he or she may die during the night or because of nightmares. . Extreme anxiety leads the subject to a state of panic and insomnia that can be highly damaging to their health. In this sense, it is necessary to treat this phobia, which usually requires not only psychological treatment, in some cases also pharmacological. This pathology is serious, so it usually needs professional help.

Causes of sleep phobia

Regardless of the type of phobia, the causes of developing these pathologies are usually common. The emotion of fear is learned, and the phobia can appear due to an associative learning called "Classical Conditioning". Thus, Phobias are developed by the association of an unconditioned stimulus that elicits a reflex response of fear and another that does not originally cause it, called a neutral stimulus . After presenting both stimuli together and as a consequence of the unpleasant experience, the neutral stimulus, now a conditioned stimulus, can elicit a fear response, called a conditioned response.

The first experiments of Classical Conditioning with humans were carried out in the 20s, when John Watson had a child, named Albert, develop a phobia to a white rat with which he previously played. This experiment could not be carried out nowadays, since it would be considered as unethical.

  • To learn more about classical conditioning, you can read our article: "Classical conditioning and its most important experiments"

Other causes of this disorder

Although Classical Conditioning is the most common cause for this disorder, it can also appear by vicar conditioning, which is a type of learning by observation. You can deepen this concept by clicking on this link.

The experts also conclude that phobias have a biological origin, since emotion of fear has an adaptive function, and has been very important for the survival of human beings throughout history. Phobias are developed by primitive associations (in the primitive brain) and not in the rational brain (neocortex). This is the reason why they do not respond to logical arguments, which makes patients with this pathology aware of what happens to them but can not overcome the phobia, often without professional help.


Phobias can appear before different phobic stimuli; however, the symptomatology does not vary from one type to another. This disorder affects a person in different ways, both cognitive, behavioral and physical .

Regarding cognitive symptoms, fear, anguish, catastrophic thoughts, confusion and lack of concentration appear. In regard to the symptoms of behavior, the person experiences a great need to avoid the feared stimulus to reduce, in this way, the discomfort. Finally, the characteristic physical symptoms are: headache, shortness of breath and hyperventilation, nausea or tension in the muscles, among others.

Treatment and therapy

Phobias are frequent disorders, but fortunately they respond well to treatment. Psychological therapy has shown that it helps patients, according to scientific studies. However, in the case of hypnophobia, drugs can also be administered which, as the treatment progresses, are gradually withdrawn.

Regarding psychological therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment par excellence. In this therapeutic method different techniques are used, such as relaxation techniques and exposure techniques, both very useful to treat this pathology.

The best known technique to help the patient overcome the phobia is systematic desensitization, which involves exposing the patient to the phobic stimulus in a gradual manner. , but this one previously receives training in coping strategies.

In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy based on Mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy work very well for the psychological treatment of phobias.

Related Posts:

  • Cognitive Therapy based on Mindfulness: what is it?
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): principles and characteristics

13 of the Worst Phobias (June 2024).

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