How do I get over my fear of sleeping alone?
September 8, 2010 2:14 AM   Subscribe

How can I get over my fear of sleeping alone?

I've always lived in houses packed full of people (family, then flatmates at uni, then friends later).

For one year, I lived with one of my grandmothers at her place - she would go out to teach in the evenings and often leave me on my own (I was nine years old) and I would head all of sorts of creaking noises and etc and would get absolutely terrified of sleeping on my own and since then, that has never left me.

Now I live with my boyfriend and he often travels, meaning I have to sleep on my own. I also get really scared (any kind of little noise, or even security, the fact someone may break in - event though my neighbourhood is safe) and get to a situation where I can't sleep until I am absolutely exhausted - often 2am, when I have to wake up at 7am to work. So in the end, I get even more tired, can't even think of going to the gym, etc.

Does the hive mind have any advice to get over this stupid fear? I need to be able to sleep on my own otherwise I might start having some serious trouble functioning during the day.

posted by heartofglass to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest
1. a fan for white noise - it will drown out any other weird noises.
2. reading comfortable and unchallenging fiction in bed till you are too sleepy to concentrate anymore.

Essentially, try and create a routine to associate your bedtime with something comforting. I can empathise as I used to live in a creaky house and lay awake many nights imagining the same things you do - plus it was an old house and part of me felt it may have been haunted!!
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:48 AM on September 8, 2010

I don't really have a problem about sleeping on my own, but I often listen to the radio in bed and often leave it on while I sleep. I listen to non-music radio programs because I find that keeping an ear on what they are talking about stops me thinking about my own issues (what happened at work that day, what I have to do the next day). This relaxes me enough to get me to sleep. But perhaps you would prefer music, or just a background noise soundtrack (I just downloaded a great rain one).

Also.. I do know a number of people in their 20s and 30s who still like to have a small teddy bear sometimes. There is even a hotel chain which will lend you one! Perhaps you may find some comfort.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:49 AM on September 8, 2010

Getting a dog really helped me get over this. She's a small dog and not really protective BUT she is very alert to her surroundings and interested in noise and things. When my husband's away she sleeps with me and at night, if there's a noise and the dog keeps on sleeping I know it was nothing to worry about. It helps give my mind an easy out.

"If that was really the sound of someone at the front window Vanna would be FREAKING OUT."

Also, sometimes she gets out of bed at night and then I can blame any noise I hear on her.
posted by Saminal at 2:55 AM on September 8, 2010 [11 favorites]

I have a few ideas on this.

I'm a big fan of alone time, but can get weird-ed out in an empty house, particularly if the house hasn't been empty for a while. My first recommendation is practice. Practice, practice, practice. A sequence of several nights alone (instead of one or two) might help make things easier.

The white noise machine is a good idea if it's noise that triggers anxiety for you. If white noise is too static-y for you, then maybe some ambient music. Lately, I've been liking bvdub a lot.

Oddly enough, a house pet might help with this. It can be reassuring to know that there's another presence in the house, even if its a cat or dog. You've got someone to blame for the noises you hear, and you can relax knowing that they're not freaking out about the things going bump in your house.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:01 AM on September 8, 2010

Yeah, it sounds like a pet or, barring that, a stuffed animal could really help you out.

Also, when I'm alone at home and feeling uneasy, I'll turn on the radio. Just hearing human voices from NPR can do wonders for banishing needless nerves.
posted by estlin at 3:24 AM on September 8, 2010

A pet can definitely help, but please don't get a dog or a cat just for this single purpose! It's mean to them and a whole lifetime of new stresses for you. If a pet is something you want as well as being able to sleep alone, though, it's a legitimate option.

Anyway, there is no shame in invoking a little personal magic to help you with this problem. If you're a naturally religious person, use the trappings with which you are comfortable to make yourself a little bubble of psychological safety and security - if you're Jewish, for example, a mezuzah on the doorframe to your bedroom can be a nice reminder that you're home and in a safe space.

But if you're not religious or you find this patronizing or something, there are lots of other ways to do this. Is there a smell that is particularly calming to you? Keep something of that smell in a small bowl on your bedside table. For me, this is as simple as the left over tea leaves in my mug. Keep an emergency kit nearby so you know that you're okay in case of sudden problems - a flashlight, extra key, pepper spray, and so-on in a little case under your bed for you to grab in a split second.

Sometimes saying a little prayer or enacting a little ritual is all you need. A once-over check of the house, the locked doors and windows, the schedule for tomorrow morning, and that drip from the bathroom (or whatever) can give you that assurance that yes, things are okay, and you can then switch off your brain.

Lastly, I used to be very afraid of all those strange noises and things, until I started sleeping with my window open. Then I got used to the many different sounds of the night and the varying breeze and scent, and now, not only am I not concerned with some mysterious creaks, I find it difficult to sleep if there aren't changes over the course of the night. It might just be worth it to stick through about a week or so and see if you can work through this on your own, without bringing white noise generators and salting your window sills into the mix.
posted by Mizu at 3:41 AM on September 8, 2010

Nth the cat (or dog if you are a dog person). Hear a creaking noise? It was the cat, no problems! Yes, a pet is a long term commitment, so don't enter into that commitment too lightly - you will know if you are an animal lover, or not. So if you don't want a pet - how about leaving the TV on softly in the other room?

The other thing I would do is invest in some really good window locks (and maybe an alarm if you can) so that if someone *does* try to break in you'll know and be prepared (and chances are, they will run away when they hear the alarm).

Sorry but please DON'T sleep with the window open. A single woman in the house all alone - you increase your chance of an intruder by just that much more. It's a really bad idea.
posted by humpy at 4:10 AM on September 8, 2010

When I first moved into my house, it took awhile to get used to the sounds that I would hear at night, and I was actually kind of concerned for safety for other reasons. What actually helped me was telling myself that the sound of someone trying to break into your house is LOUD (it is) and that what I was hearing was not LOUD and it was probably the cats or the house or nothing.

Noise machines are awesome as are ear plugs (the soft ones you can get at the drug store). For awhile, especially when there would be loud people outside my house that would trigger my anxiety, ear plugs were invaluable. Even now that I feel a lot less concerned about safety, ear plugs are helpful when I am having a hard time sleeping because it blanks everything out and I find it really relaxing.

Develop a comforting bedtime ritual and positive self-talk to calm yourself down. Read for a bit with the sound machine on then put in ear plugs and breath slow and deep until you fall asleep. If you hear something, try to stay calm (think: It's just the wind, etc) instead of immediately freaking out.
posted by radioaction at 4:38 AM on September 8, 2010

Try reading over this thread - it has a lot of good answers to a similar question.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:46 AM on September 8, 2010

If we're going to be ignoring advice, the first advice to ignore is any that says 'get a pet' for any reason other than 'you want a pet.'

If the OP is in a relatively safe neighborhood and has, say, screens on her windows, opening her windows a bit isn't a pronouncement of death or incitement to assault. We don't even know what floor the OP lives on. I say this as someone who has slept with her window open while I was living in a neighborhood where a real, live serial killer of single women turned out to be operating, across the street from one of the homicide scenes. You simply couldn't get in that particular window without a particularly complicated ladder set-up on uneven, rocky ground. An intruder who actually wanted in would have broken the bay window in front and gone through there, and there was nothing I could do about that particular architectural feature. I locked up, kept my phone charged, and the front room lights off/shades drawn to keep people from banging on the porch windows and screaming for money at 5 in the morning, and that was about all that could be done. (It was a fine, fine area, let me tell you.)

And yes, I actually do get anxious about sleeping alone, though I have (totally non-protective, wimpy) pets because I want them. The radio and bedtime rituals worked for me, as well as learning what the typical night sounds in my neighborhood were like--which I did learn more about by having the window open on stifling summer nights. I found that I really could hear the difference between 'things that were normal' and 'things that were sketchy.' We had an adequate sample size of each around there.

FYI: it IS loud when people try to break in. A friend of mine and I had to break into that apartment once, through a super-sekrit access point that I think only my roommate and I knew about. She woke up and heard us rustling, and quite rightly threatened to beat us to a pulp with a MagLite before the cops got there. (I had thought she was still out of town.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:11 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are some things that worked for me:

Checking that the house is secure. Numbers for emergency close by. Leave some sort of indirect light source on--a night light or hallway light.

Asking my man to wear a textural shirt like velour for a few days so it has his familiar smell all over it. Sleep with the shirt. (It's very comforting).

Seconding others that a new environment will require some adjustment to sounds.

Failing all that, there are over the counter sleep aids that will get you through a night or two.

One that really helped me: I realized my "stranger in the house" fears were related to my dad's Jekyll/Hyde alcohol cycle. Digesting that memory helped me sleep much better. You might try going back and dealing with yours and find it helpful.
posted by effluvia at 5:52 AM on September 8, 2010

Leave the light on.

I'm serious. I'm a wuss who lives in a house built in the 1840s. I slept with my mom until I was 14 and the need for comfort while sleeping is very very difficult to unlearn. My partner lives with me now, so it's much less of an issue, but I lived alone for years. I also often make the mistake of watching horror movies.

Leaving the light on lets me relax enough to fall asleep, even if I don't sleep as well. When I'll groggily come to in the middle of the night, I've made the point to reflexively turn the light off. No thinking about it! No pondering! No listening for strange noises! Just turn it off and let your groggy state put you back to sleep.
posted by lydhre at 5:54 AM on September 8, 2010

I once hated sleeping alone so much that I'd go to great lengths not to - including sleeping in strange men's apartments. Yeah, not much safer, I know, but fear has no logic. And not everyone is able to have pets, esp if one lives in an apartment.

However, logic is what got me over it. Seriously. Someone upthread mentioned creating a routine around bedtime, and that's great advice. Go to bed at the same time, check all the locks and windows and make yourself feel safe, and get into the routine of teaching your body and mind that "now it's time to sleep."

Now here's the hard part - you have to convince yourself that no one is waiting in the dark for you to go to sleep. All those bumps and thumps, you have to learn to identify what's normal for your house and what's not. Do that while your SO is at home and it makes it *much* easier. Once your mind gets used to what *should* be there, it will ignore the noises.

Then, (this is the hardest part), you have to tell yourself - out loud if that's what it takes - that no one is hiding in the dark, and if they were, they would have attacked you by now and they're not waiting for you to go to sleep. Assure yourself that your place is secure and if someone did try to break in, they would wake you up so staying awake is a waste of time and energy. (you do have alarms on the windows, right? They don't cost much and they're way easy to install and not permanent - in case you're in an apartment. or just put sticks in the windows so they can't open).

Anyway, with a constant onslaught of logic, my fear of sleeping alone lessened and I now live alone - in a motor home no less. It took a long time and I still have to go through the above ritual of convincing myself no one could possibly be hiding in my tiny home, but yeah, it worked for me.

Hope it helps.
posted by patheral at 5:56 AM on September 8, 2010

This is exactly the kind of thing that CBT is useful for! Find thee a practitioner!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:56 AM on September 8, 2010

Sounds kind of strange but you might try reading some first-person novels in bed before falling asleep. Not a thriller, but something with a historical or adventurous scope like Road from Coorain. I find that first-person books are more intimate, so this might give you the sensation of having a shared experience at bedtime.
posted by crapmatic at 6:37 AM on September 8, 2010

I read that as CBC. When I first moved out on my own, I turned to National Public Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the BBC to by my constant talking companions. It pushed some of the worrying out of my mind and I was really up to date to boot!
posted by advicepig at 6:42 AM on September 8, 2010

We have an alarm system in our house and whenever my husband is away, I turn it on overnight. It just gives me that feeling of security .. so that if I hear a noise, I'm not worried that it means someone is breaking in. It's just a noise. I know alarm systems can be pricey and the monthly monitoring fees add up. But it's worth it to me.

I used to live alone and I had an alarm system installed in that house too but somehow never got around to having it connected to the phone line and then monitored. It still gave me great peace of mind because if someone broke in, that shrill alarm still blasted, and how would the intruder know that the police hadn't been alerted?

I've seen inexpensive door and window alarms that you can install yourself, and I know you can buy stickers to put on the windows and doors that claim the place is wired with a security system. Maybe something like that would give you a little peace of mind.
posted by Kangaroo at 7:43 AM on September 8, 2010

I have your same problem. Two things that help me are not living in a detached house (I like knowing that there are usually neighbors on the other side of the wall) and having dogs. I still have a hard time falling asleep at night if my husband isn't home, though.

I don't really understand the calls for therapy -- it's not natural for humans to be alone at night, so of course some of us feel disturbed in this unnatural state.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:11 AM on September 8, 2010

I don't really understand the calls for therapy

You say it like it's a bad thing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using therapy to help get through fear and discomfort. That's kinda what it's there for.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:59 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is why human kind invent plushies and cuddle pillows. I rarely get night-fright, and an old, ratty teddy bear who spends most of her time shelved to help preserve her is the most useful crutch for those moments.

However, if it's more than just the odd creeeeeak! ZOMG! moment, this is what therapy is for.
posted by Phalene at 11:59 AM on September 8, 2010

I have some trouble falling asleep at night, partly out of fear reasons (I swear, the little boy from Ju-On is living under my bed just waiting for me to close my eyes!), and I find the best thing is to put on an episode (or a few on a playlist) of a show that I like and have already seen. I then usually turn away from the screen and just listen until I fall asleep. It is nice to have noise that takes a little more concentration than music, and it also provides a little bit of light. Good luck!
posted by you zombitch at 9:28 PM on September 8, 2010

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