Pushing Through Your Fear to Get a Goodnight’s Sleep

Dr. Craig Hudson, MD | December 24, 2016

Is your fear keeping you up at night? Fear is actually a common reason cited for sleeping issues. Fear that hinders sleep can be connected to underlying mental health struggles like depression and anxiety. These feelings can have a few different sources.

Fear of the Dark

Not everyone outgrows the fear of the dark, and in fact, many adults do not. We think of it as something that only affects children, but how many adults do you know that need to have the TV on to fall asleep or prefer to dim the lights as opposed to shutting them off completely? These habits might actually be linked to a fear of the dark.

A study conducted by Ryerson University found that of study participants who were deemed to be good sleepers, 26 percent feared the dark. That statistic was nearly doubled in poor sleepers with 46 percent experiencing a fear of the dark.

Fear of Sleeplessness

A stressful job or the anticipation of activities that are stressful or challenging is often the starting point of insomnia-related fear.

Picture this: you are lying in bed feeling anxious over what the next day might hold. Tomorrow will be filled with responsibilities and expectations that you are not sure you can fulfill. It might be a big presentation, a huge deadline—essentially anything that could cause you anxiety or unease. As the minutes pass, you begin to worry about getting enough sleep, and then, any sleep at all.

The fear builds leaving your brain exhausted and wide awake. Now imagine this cycle continues into a period of chronic insomnia when anxieties over what happens during waking hours leads to stress over the very concept of getting enough sleep.

Conquering Your Fears

Given that the root of fears that cause sleeplessness is a mental struggle, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) or talk therapy can be effective solutions. Working through fears and anxieties with a mental health professional can give those who struggle with this issue practical tools and exercises to help manage their stress and emotions more effectively. Sleep quality may improve as a by-product of alleviating daytime stresses, or it can be the direct goal of therapy. 

Therapy is not an option that is available to everyone, but making self-guided strides towards better self-care and stress management can be very helpful. Explore dietary changes like reducing sugar and caffeine intake, as well as strategies like coloring, journaling and physical exercise to find relief. Finally, if and when you start to feel the fear creep in, try thinking through it in the moment it strikes. Remind yourself of the facts, and attempt to look at your fears through an objective lens.