What is sleep phobia (narcolepsy)?

narcolepsy is a fear or phobia of sleeping or falling asleep. It can be considered a specific phobia and classified as an anxiety disorder. In general, specific phobias are associated with fear of specific people, places, objects, situations, or activities. Fear is persistent, unrealistic, and causes distress to the point that it interferes with daily functioning.

Read on to learn more about sleep phobia, including characteristics, causes, and treatment options.

Definition of narcolepsy

People with this specific phobia experience severe distress and anxiety when falling asleep. Other problems associated with sleep fears may include:

  • Want to avoid or relive the nightmare
  • afraid of the dark
  • fear of letting down one’s guard
  • fear of losing control
  • Inability to be alert or alert because of falling asleep

Features of narcolepsy

People with specific phobias, such as a fear of sleep, may experience symptoms when exposed to an object or situation that triggers the fear, or even when they expect to be exposed to it.

Many adults with specific phobias know that their fears are irrational.

Typical physical and mental symptoms of specific phobias include:

  • palpitations
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • chest pain
  • tingling sensation
  • chills or hot flashes
  • sweat
  • trembling
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • a sense of impending doom
  • fear of losing control or dying
  • Feeling as if the experience is unreal

People with sleep phobia may avoid sleeping.developing Insomnia (sleep disorders that make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep) that may exacerbate fear.

For those who are afraid of sleep, sleep behaviors may also vary, including sleeping with the lights on, sleeping during the day, and sleeping outside the bedroom.

Diagnosing narcolepsy

Usually, a specific phobia is not formally diagnosed unless the fear causes severe distress or interferes with daily life.

Mental health professionals familiar with anxiety disorders can assess whether a person has a specific phobia based on certain criteria.The diagnostic criteria used are Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual for Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders.

According to the DSM-5, people who may have specific phobias may have the following fears:

  • persistent, unreasonable, excessive, and occurs in anticipation of appearing in front of the object of their fear
  • Significant anxiety that almost always occurs due to exposure to a situation or object
  • Disproportionate to the risk that the object or activity poses in everyday life
  • Causes avoidance of objects or activities, or, if experienced, severe anxiety
  • Impairs day-to-day functioning and interpersonal relationships
  • lasts six months or more
  • not better explained by another mental health condition

Assessments can also assess a person’s specific thoughts and concerns about sleep fears to better inform treatment.

What causes narcolepsy?

It’s not always clear what causes a particular phobia. However, factors that may influence a person’s risk of developing a specific phobia may be related to learned experiences, such as having direct or indirect experience with objects or activities, previous trauma, or genetics.

Due to the fear of sleep, there may be related disorders, including:

  • Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP): This occurs when a person is temporarily unable to move their arms and legs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep (also known as dystonia) after waking up. This can cause severe distress and lead to fear of sleep.
  • Nightmare disorder: This condition is characterized by recurring nightmares that disrupt sleep. It is common to experience this disorder and have another mental health diagnosis, such as anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Experiencing trauma or PTSD: Having experienced trauma before has been associated with many sleep disorders, one of which is the fear of sleep. Fear may be related to experiencing trauma-related nightmares or hypervigilance (a common trait in people with PTSD).
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Treatment of phobias

While avoiding fear-inducing objects or situations may be possible for some people, this is not the case with sleep. Getting enough quality sleep is critical to overall health and well-being.

For those suffering from a fear of sleep that interferes with daily functioning, there are treatment options to explore. Some options can be combined, including prescription medication and therapy, depending on factors associated with a person’s fear of sleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves identifying, exploring, and challenging a person’s thoughts and behaviors. It can be beneficial to understand thoughts related to an individual’s fear of sleep with the help of a mental health professional.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is an evidence-based therapy that addresses sleep quality issues. In addition to challenging sleep-influencing thoughts and behaviors, this approach includes sleep hygiene and relaxation education, stimulus control, and sleep restriction strategies. A study of PTSD patients using CBT-I found that participants had a reduced fear of sleep and an increase in the quantity and quality of sleep.

If nightmares are one of the main reasons for fear of sleep, these specific treatments may be recommended.

Exposure, Relaxation, and Rewriting Therapy (ERRT)

This type of multi-session therapy helps people who experience nightmares face nightmares (exposure), practice relaxation strategies, and describe nightmares in new ways. This can include descriptions of core themes around intimacy, trust, power, control and self-esteem (rewriting).

ERRT has been shown to be effective in relieving distress associated with sleep and chronic nightmares.

Image Rehearsal Processing (IRT)

For those who experience nightmares that cause them to fear sleep, IRT may utilize other methods to reduce the nightmare and eliminate the fear. This treatment also uses a rewriting strategy to explore the meaning of nightmares, grade them, and then find new, neutral ways to describe and rehearse them.

IRT can be combined with relaxation activities and sleep hygiene.


Sleep phobia is the fear of sleep. Persistent, unrealistic fears of sleep can cause severe distress and negatively impact daily life. While the exact cause of sleep phobia is unknown, it has been linked to experiencing trauma, being diagnosed with PTSD, and having other sleep problems or mental health conditions. Working with a mental health professional to explore treatment options can help address the fear and any underlying disorder that causes it.

VigorTip words

Sleep phobia can be a distressing condition, especially considering how important sleep is to a person’s overall health and well-being. Working with a mental health professional can provide helpful strategies for addressing sleep phobias and enjoying quality sleep again.