Join Date: Jun 2002
Fear of sleep itself? Any help would be loved
About 10 years ago I began to suffer from periodic bouts of a fear of sleep. I have never suffered from night terrors, sleepwalking or other sleep related problems that cause many other people to fear sleep, and though I do have what I think is a fairly normal fear of death and the uncertainty it may bring, I also doubt that my sleep problems are a simple fear of dying in my sleep, although I am not so confident as to rule that out 100%. My fear has always been a fear of the actual sleep itself. To me, sleep is a loss of the conscious mind and the control to turn that state off and on, which is also my worst case scenario of what death might bring. I realize that my fear is not normal, that the vast majority of the world does not view sleep this way, yet I can't make myself feel like the rest of the world does. It is like I'm eating the exact same meal as the rest of the world, and they find it delicious and I can't stand it. We are experiencing the exact same thing and are having two completely different reactions to it. I can tell myself that sleep is important to the body, that there are processes throughout the brain and body that continue to run during sleep, that people feel refreshed after a good night's sleep, but none of these thoughts help me as none of them change the fact that sleep turns off the conscious mind and self control of that.
I have felt this way about sleep for ten years, and quite possibly longer than that, yet the extreme bouts of fear that seem to plague me for days to weeks on end seem to only happen 2-4 times a year. This confuses me, as I feel the same way about sleep (That it's like a frightening little oblivion for eight hours a day) every day of my life, yet only during these handful of periods a year do those feelings because a torturous fear. For most of the year, I sleep normally, easily, sometimes often even, with some discomfort towards it always in the back of mind, but nothing else. And then a few times a year I can feel the unease towards sleep intensify for a couple days before it finally manifests itself in an all out panic. These panics I would describe as the worst times of my life. I know that the body needs sleep, that no matter how hard I try to stay awake that sooner or later I will fall asleep, and the longer I stay away the more tired by body will become, making it harder to stay awake, and all this in turn puts incredible pressure and panic on me. During these episodes I never try to stay awake by keeping my eyes open and doing something to distract myself such as reading/watching tv/exercising, because I know all this is doing is delaying the inevitable and sooner or later I will have to try to sleep, and that the longer I've been awake and the more tired I am when I do try to sleep, the more panic and fear and stress and pressure I will feel. Yet a large part of me also does not want to sleep ever for the reasons I've desribed before, so during these stretches of intense fear I roll around in my bed with my eyes closed for hours and hours at a time, trying to fall asleep but forcing myself awake whenever I'm aware that I'm about to. Eventually I become so tired that sleep "sneaks up on me" so to speak.
It is hard to describe the sense of dread and terror I feel during these periods that can last three days or (more often) three weeks. Nothing in my life has ever felt worse. My heart races, I sweat, I lose all appetite as well as the desire to do any of the day to day activities or hobbies I would normally do. Forcing myself to do an activity as simple as watching a movie or reading a book feels torturous to me and reminds me of how different I am from the rest of the world. From the moment I awake til the moment I fall asleep every day during these periods I am filled with panic. I am not a religeous man, but during some of these periods I have prayed and tried to bargain with God. I have felt extreme self pity to the point of crying and asking aloud what I've done to deserve this. I also feel extreme empathy to everyone around the world that has ever suffered, and to all the people in my own life that I have brought any pain to. I feel an intense feeling of isolation, I know most people on the planet do not have this fear, that it is a rare and strange fear, that most can not relate to it. I can't take the comfort that others can take in many illnesses and diseases, as far as I know there are no books on fear of sleep, no plentiful support groups, no standard steps to treat it, no commonly prescribed medication for it.
I do not know if this fear is a chemical imbalance, a symptom of some personality disorder, or simply a strange, troublesome thought that I and few others on earth have. I have suffered from mild to moderate OCD and Panic Disorder through most of my life, and I am not ruling out that maybe they are somehow connected to my fear of sleep, although I have my doubts. I have recieved treatment for my OCD and Panic Disorder through therapy and medication (Zoloft, 50 mg raised to 75 mg and finally to 100, my current dosage). My OCD and panic have ebbed and flowed throughout this time, and although they are never completely gone, I can say that they in themselves do not prevent me from doing anything I want in life, that they are extremely managable, and that they've overall eased a large amount from when I first manifested them as a teenager. I can not say the same thing about my bouts with a fear of sleep. Although I haven't kept any record on them, I think my extreme periods of sleep fear have come every 4-6 months for the last ten years, without change. They have not responded to medication like my OCD and panic have. And unlike OCD and panic attacks, where I can see that the thoughts they produce are either completely irrational or large overreactions, part of me always, every day of my life, does think that sleep is horrible, and that the whole world should feel the way I do. I used to comfort myself during bouts of panic disorder and OCD with the old addage that a crazy person doesn't think that they're crazy. Now during bouts of sleep fear, that same phrase haunts me, as my worst fear is that this problem isn't a chemical imbalance or disorder or anything treatable, but that I am simply a strange abberation of this earth who can't stop thinking of sleep this way and can never be cured.
Every time one of these sleep fear periods comes, it is a little different. If I thought of something that helped distract my mind and get me to sleep one time, it won't work the next. I am affraid that it may get worse and worse until it becomes some kind of hell I can't even imagine. When the fear slowly fades away, in the months between bouts I ignore any thoughts of it. I push them as far back as my mind as possible, I don't read, watch or think about sleep any more than I have to out of fear of bringing the fear back. I have completely altered my life for the worse to avoid confronting sleep as little as possible. I shy away from appointments and obligations of any kind, anything that would put pressure on me to sleep or wake at a certain time, which in turn would force me to think about sleep, which in turn may bring on a bout of fear. All of this dramatically affects my quality of life. I'm a 25 year old man who has always excelled in school, yet I have never graduated grade 12 or gone on to college, I have held one job for one month which I quit due to my fear of sleep, I haven't had a relationship or friendship with anyone but my parents in ten years because of my fear of sleep.
I am in one of these bouts of fear right now, as you may have guessed. And I am tired of running. I live in Kelowna, BC, Canada. A city of 100,000 people, and in the past I have seeked out some of the few therapists and support groups in town, but have found no help. I am hoping that by reaching out beyond my own city, I may be able to find help. From looking online, I know that while my problem may be rare, I am not alone in having it. And while in the grand scheme of things there are far bigger problems in this world, this is a problem that I think could stand a little attention for the few that do suffer immensly from it. I am hoping that you or someone you know can help me, in any way. Advice, conversation, support groups, research, anything. All I can offer in return is my extreme graditude, the knowledge that you could really change some lives, and my complete willingness to offer any more information or help that I can.
Thank you for your time,
Last edited by Mod-S4; 01-31-2013 at 08:54 PM.