It’s a classic horror movie scene: A masked lunatic slips through the bedroom window and attacks an unsuspecting victim while they’re asleep. When we sleep, we are at our most vulnerable, without any defenses ready or time to react.
For many women, in particular, the idea of a relaxing night at home alone isn’t all that relaxing. The quiet of an empty house can trigger panic attacks, anxiety, obsessive worrying and insomnia. These same women typically sleep well when their partners or family members are home, but a night solo can trigger intense fear.
Although it may not have a fancy name, the extreme or irrational fear of sleeping alone qualifies as a phobia. In many cases, the underlying fear is related to intruders or attackers, even in neighborhoods considered safe.
Why People Fear Sleeping Alone
Increasingly isolated lifestyles combined with a barrage of negative news — shootings, bombings and assault — all fuel the fear of sleeping alone. Violent TV shows and films also reinforce the idea that terror could be lurking inside your own home, causing even the most brave to have nightmares.
“Sleep is a sacred time when you’re surrendering to the night,” says Nancy H. Rothstein, MBA and Sleep Ambassador®, “yet I can’t count all the movies that show women attacked in bed at night.”
If you’re ready for a peaceful night of deep sleep rather than a sleepless night of anxiety, consider a few simple tips to help you overcome your fears.
Turn Off the TV
Don’t watch fear-inducing news, especially before bed, as it creates an exaggerated sense of danger. The same is true for crime TV shows and scary movies. If you really enjoy watching TV, stick with comedies and uplifting content. Otherwise, turn off the TV and lose yourself in a good (non-scary) novel or listen to some relaxing music that wont cause nightmares.
Let Go of Temporary Rituals
Leaving the lights on, inviting friends over when your partner is away, or sleeping with the TV on may help you cope with your phobia in the short term, but such habits won’t resolve your fears.
“Instead of helping, these actually increase anxiety because your brain tells you it was the ritual that protected you,” Dr. Alice Boyes, author of “The Anxiety Toolkit,” said in an article for the Daily Mail. “You never get that sense of safety from sensible actions.”
Instead of focusing on what could happen (but likely never would), focus on what you love. “As soon as your mind goes to fear, switch back to gratitude,” says Rothstein. Think about or write down everything you’re grateful for: your loving family, your comfortable home, your pets and your neighborhood. “When you are in gratitude, you move your mind out of its negative pattern,” says Rothstein.
Short, positive statements repeated out loud can help reprogram your subconscious mind to steer your mood and mental state away from fear. “That busy mind is like a train going downhill,” says Rothstein. “You have to develop a new inner dialogue.”
Find a phrase that resonates and repeat it for at least five minutes, three times a day. Some examples from Rothstein include:
- I am safe at home.
- I feel peaceful when I’m at home on my own.
- I am relaxed when I’m at home.
- I enjoy the quiet when I’m at home on my own.
Therapists have found cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. CBT examines the ways negative thoughts and behaviors contribute to anxiety. With the help of a therapist, you can use CBT sessions to examine your negative thoughts and learn ways to replace them with more realistic, positive thoughts.
The Bottom Line
Overcoming any intense fear takes time. If you’re willing to face your fear of sleeping alone and work to change your thoughts, you can sleep peacefully, even when you’re home alone.