If anything characterizes phobias, it is their variety. Almost any phenomena that we can transform into concepts are susceptible to giving rise to a phobia, if the right circumstances are given: however irrational it is to link this feeling of fear and anxiety to a stimulus, a situation or a situation. particular thought.
Somniphobia, or phobia in the act of sleeping, is one example. Most people understand that sleep is a normal part of everyday life; however, there are those who feel the urge to sleep as if it were a nightmare.
In this article we will see how sleep aphobia is treated in psychotherapy., And how is the process of improvement in patients suffering from this anxiety disorder developing?
What is somniphobia?
As we expected, somnophobia is the pathological fear of sleep. More specifically, it is a specific phobia in which the idea or sensation of falling asleep generates moments of very intense stress, which can even resemble panic attacks.
It means that this kind of phobia it is not so much what happens during sleep as what happens in anticipation of falling asleep. Those who suffer from somnophobia experience very intense discomfort in the last hours of the day, when they feel that the time is approaching when they will start to get sleepy and everyone is sleeping. In extreme cases, discomfort may 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, as it is very easy to relate the two states of consciousness and see them as similar.
Typical symptoms of somnophobia are those of all specific phobias Usually; in this case, the only thing that changes is the type of stimuli and the situations that favor their appearance. Some of the most common are:
- Acceleration of blood pressure.
- Catastrophic thoughts about what’s to come.
- Increased sensitivity to any stimulus.
- Heart rate increased.
- Accelerated breathing.
- Need to “escape” from the situation.
To these typical symptoms, in this case, we can add another specific of drowsiness phobia: sleep and fatigue due to little or almost nothing sleep disturbances.
As with all psychological disorders, there is not a single cause of somniphobia, but several. There is a component of genetic predisposition to developing anxiety problems, although that alone is not decisive: no one will experience this phobia just to have certain gene variants.
In specific phobias, the most important causes seem to be those resulting from past experiences, from learning understood in a broad sense.
Thus, situations that were perceived as problematic, although at the time did not cause much discomfort or particular anxiety, over time can take root in our emotional memory, promoting the appearance of phobias.
On another side, the causes that the patient identifies as the reason for their fear of the act of sleeping may also vary. In some cases, it is the fear that something bad will happen during sleep, and therefore it would be a fear of a lack of control over oneself and the environment. In other cases, what generates discomfort is the idea of losing consciousness, which can be associated with death or coma.
In any case, patients with somnophobia (and other phobias in general) tend to recognize that their fears are irrational, and that the problem is not so much in the thoughts and ideas through which this fear is expressed, but in the emotional states which escape the rules of logic.
How is somniphobia treated in therapy?
When those suffering from somnophobia 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 to treat this phobia and many others, both in adults and in young people, and we know from experience that psychological intervention is very effective in this type of disorder.
One of these resources is the systematic exposure, In which the psychologist evokes a situation related to the phobic stimulus and creates a context in which the patient can face this source of anxiety in a safe environment and where everything is under control. This is why they sometimes work to offer imaginative exercises, sometimes in search of more real contexts, and have even started to develop forms of therapy for phobias using virtual reality systems.
In addition, the professional constantly adjusts the difficulty level of these challenges so that the patient can progress to a point where the symptoms have subsided so much that they are hardly a problem.
Another way to combat somnophobia in psychotherapy is use relaxation exercise training, Which help prevent anxiety from causing the patient to lose control of their actions. Usually these exercises are based on breathing and realizing how to experience moments of relaxation, not focusing on the causes of the discomfort. The aim is to associate situations of discomfort due to somnophobia with times when anxiety is reduced thanks to relaxation techniques.
Cognitive restructuring is another therapeutic technique that is particularly useful in cases where there are irrational ideas that fuel the intensity of the phobia. For example, if someone has a tendency to believe that there is a risk that the heart will stop while sleeping, or if they are afraid of sleep paralysis, in therapy situations can be created in which the patient challenges these ideas, Stop to think about the extent to which they adapt to reality and constitute a risk that justifies this constant state of alert.
The creation of negotiated routines and self-instructions between the patient and the psychotherapist also helps a lot. Better organizing time also helps reduce the power of sleepwalking itself. This avoids situations in which the patient constantly postpones bedtime (which generates tension and anticipation of danger which reinforces the fear of sleeping).
- American Psychiatric Association (2013), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Edmund JB (2005). The workbook on anxiety and phobia, 4th ed. New publications from Harbinger.