What is Oneirophobia? (A Comprehensive Guide)

In this blog we will discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment of Oneirophobia.

Oneirophobia is an intense fear of dreams. It is derived from the Greek word ‘oneiro’, meaning “dream”, and ‘phobos’, meaning “fear”.

Dr. Mark Blecher was the first one to coin the term oneirophobia in his book ‘The Dream Frontier’ as a fear of going to sleep.

He described the symptoms as typical of most phobias. 

Dreams have been associated with various connotations.

At times dreams mean aspirations, and in reality dreams are images that come into our mind while we are sleeping.

Sigmund Freud called the dreams a ‘royal road to consciousness that made it possible to look into the unconscious mind. 

The unconscious mind is the place where all our fears and aspirations lie and repress from the conscious mind to avoid pain and guilt.

These repressed wishes during sleep tend to seep into the preconscious mind and come to us as dreams while we sleep.

The people suffering from Oneirophobia are fully aware that these are dreams, but still the dreams seem too real and they start fearing them to such an extent that even sleeping poses a threat to them.

Oneirophobia is not just a simple fear, it borders on panic and the person finds it very hard to sleep in fear of dreaming the content that causes anxiety.

The anxiety provoking content is coupled with dreams and sleep and the person suffering from Oneirophobia starts to be afraid of dreams.

They would suffer a full-blown panic attack even at the thought of dreaming or sleeping.

This is not a rare phobia but still varies in severity. It can suddenly be developed or can take some time for symptoms to be severe. 

Like most of the phobias, it is an irrational fear, but still it poses a threat to the sufferer’s psyche.

The daily activities of the sufferer are limited and in some cases the anxiety may also lead to depression.

Symptoms of Oneirophobia

To avoid the experience of anxiety itself the individual may develop Oneirophobia, so as to avoid the very cause of the uncomfortable condition. 

  • Anxiety at the thought of dreaming
  • Unable to fall asleep fearing the onset of dreams. This can also lead to insomnia (inability to fall asleep).

Physical Symptoms

These are intense and can begin without any prior warning.

The person suffering from Oneirophobia experiences the full physical intensity of either all of these or some of these in combination with others.

  • hot flashes or chills
  • headaches
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath a choking sensation
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness 
  • dry mouth
  • ringing in ears
  • confusion 
  • hyperventilation
  • raised blood pressure
  • Promiscuous behavior

The Psychological Symptoms

During panic attack the person suffering from Oneirophobia may experience the following

  • fear of fainting
  • feelings of dread
  • fear of dying
  • huilt
  • shame
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of harm
  • fear of illness
  • self-blame
  • withdrawn
  • feeling Of hopelessness
  • feeling of disconnect
  • confusion
  • lack of concentration
  • anger
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • afraid of rejection
  • Incapacitated to enjoy the company of their partner
  • False happiness facade

Causes of Oneirophobia

As with most phobias and anxieties, there is no clear consensus about what causes Oneirophobia, but still a very plausible cause could be a fear of loss of control and the nightmares turning into a reality.

The most common explanation is a childhood traumatic episode where a child may have experienced an event that haunts him still in his dreams and nightmares.

The person who suffers fromOneirophobia just wants to be free of all anxiety related to dreams and the association that they make of these dream images to reality.

Person suffering from Oneirophobia may suffer from low esteem and abandonment issues in childhood.

He/she may even have had traumatic events that come back in dreams from time to time.

Oneirophobia may also be due to negative emotional experiences that are faced by the sufferer earlier.

People may also be afraid of losing control because this is something that is not in their hands and not controlled by them, no matter how powerful a person is.

Thus, at the time he is suffering from the symptoms of Oneirophobia, he/she feels totally helpless, aggravating their already hiked anxiety.

There are plenty of people with Oneirophobia who cannot even recall the traumatic incident that would have developed this fear.

Scientists believe that a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemistry, and other biological and environmental factors could cause such fears to develop. 

As is common in specific phobias, the cause Oneirophobia may lie deep in the person’s childhood or its onset may be due to an environmental factor.

Genetics also plays a pivotal role in the cause of developing Oneirophobia

Other causes can be as follow:

• Learned behavior

• Traumatic experiences

Etiological Models of Oneirophobia

1. Biological (Genetic) Model

Genetics also determines how a person reacts and feels. Therefore, people inherit fears and phobias as well from their families.

The brain cells (neurons) release certain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that in depleted states can cause anxiety like symptoms.

2. Psychodiagnostics Model

If a person has suffered from a traumatic experience in early childhood it can have a severe dire impact on his later life. 

A childhood traumatic experience could be where children experienced a negative impact of events due to a change in their life.

This may leave a long lasting impression.

Reading books that have a detailed account of nightmares, also anecdotes of dreams and their fictional supernatural powers in movies, can add to the fears.

3. Behavioral Model          

According to this model, irrational fears  may be caused through behaviors that are learned by replication.

Children often replicate unique behaviors of their adults, parents or a favorite aunt or uncle.

If a family member is already suffering from anxiety or is scared of one or another thing, then chances are higher that only by observing this, the child may develop fears.

Treatments of Oneirophobia

Oneirophobia can be treated through different treatments.

These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

In CBT the therapist helps the client to amend his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.

This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.

The therapist helps the client to discover the reason for this thought, his behavior in regards to changes in life. This therapy is goal oriented and short termed.

Therefore, the results are seen soon. It changes the way a person thinks and feels. CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrates on the present situation. 

Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.

Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior. Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.

For the treatment of Oneirophobia, the therapist separates the problem into parts.

These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions. 

  1. What thought is invoked at the thought of dreaming/sleeping?
  2. How do you feel when you dream?
  3. What do you do when you wake up from a dream? 

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT and designed by Albert Ellis.

According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is what subjective perspective is. 

3) Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP)

In this therapy the client is asked to 

  1. Access the phobia in a safe environment.
  2. Help them to replay the phobia along with happy emotions.
  3. Disassociate from the phobia.

4) Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment. We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us. 

We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions. 

In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!

In Oneirophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is thinking of what he is afraid of. Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms. 

5) Meditation

For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.

The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.

The client will meditate during the thoughts of death and concentrate on his breathing patterns in the presence of the feared stimulus. 

6) Self-Help Groups

Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.

These groups are individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias. They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.

This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.

7) Changing Lifestyle

Breaking down the dullness of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well. 

• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:

Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.

• Indulging in an exercise regime:

Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better. This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.

• Altering eating and drinking habits:

Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.

This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum. With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.

• Improving the sleep cycle:

When we get proper rest, our concentration improves. 

8) Psychiatric Medication 

There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Oneirophobia are severe.

Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)

These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.


These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Oneirophobia as well as other phobias.

Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better. 

9)  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions. A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.

Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.

Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.

We are always here to answer if you have any queries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a phobia of falling asleep?

Yes. The phobia of falling asleep is also called Oneirophobia.

How common is Oneirophobia?

Oneirophobia is one of the common phobias and the person and the severity also varies from person to person.

How do I overcome my fear of dreams?

You can overcome your fear of dreams by getting therapies like Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Mindfulness, to name a few

What is a nightmare?

Nightmares are a bad dream that usually occurs in REM sleep. These can cause a negative or an emotional response.


  • www.psychtimes.com
  • www.psychologytoday.com
  • www.amazon.com
  • www.exploringyourmind.com
  • www.albertellis.com

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