Scared to Sleep

These strategies may help take the dread out of going to sleep.

From the WebMD Archives


Joni Aldrich, 57, of Winston-Salem, N.C., began to dread sleep after she lost her husband to brain cancer four years ago. After he had a seizure, she had to make the difficult decision to suspend treatment, an experience that traumatized her.

Every night, she had nightmares of him begging her to help him, but she couldn’t. She would awaken shaking. Aldrich finally got help from a counselor and began taking an anti-anxiety medication to help her sleep. “I still take the anti-anxiety medication in a very low dose, because I fear the results otherwise,” says Aldrich, CEO of Cancer Lifeline Publications. “Even one of those nightmares wouldn't be worth it. And, I still go to bed later than I should just to make sure that I'm really tired.”

Fears Related to Sleep Apnea

Still others are fretful about sleep because they have health conditions. People who have sleep apnea for example, sometimes fear that they’ll stop breathing in their sleep.

Harris says that fear is rare, but may occur when someone first learns that he or she has sleep apnea and is waiting for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device to treat the condition.

“Once the apnea is under control, people sleep better knowing they’re not waking up multiple times a night,” Harris says.

So what can you do to eliminate the fear of sleep? Here’s what experts suggest:

Change Your Thinking.

Like many anxieties, dread of sleep is all about perspective. Rather than dwell on the negative effects of sleeplessness, remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal to have occasional bad nights and that occasional nighttime awakenings are to be expected.

If you’re anxious because you’re anticipating a disruption, tell yourself to expect it. “I knew an internist who was on call and couldn’t sleep because he was always expecting a call,” Edlund says. “I told him just to expect calls and not worry about it, and he slept much better after that.”