How to Sleep after Watching, Seeing, or Reading Something Scary

Sometimes watching a movie or TV show or reading a novel or story can be so scary that it’s tough to get to sleep afterward. Sometimes you could have an even more scary experience, such as a paranormal experience, which could also make it tough to get to sleep. You’re not alone in your difficulty at getting to sleep after these kinds of experiences, but you can overcome this kind of insomnia. Here are some ways to do so.


EditSeek Out Distractions As You Fall Asleep

  1. Focus on something else before sleep. Before going to bed, try to focus on something less scary—happy even. This will get your mind off whatever it is that scared you and the distraction can help you get to sleep. There are lots of ways to distract yourself to sleep. [1]
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    • Think of a happy memory. You may have a happy childhood memory or even a more recent memory that, if you focus on it, could help you distract yourself from whatever fear you are experiencing as a result of watching a scary movie, etc.
    • Find an object in the room where you sleep to focus on. In your mind, think about how you would describe this object to another person. What is its shape? How would you describe its contours? Does it remind you of anything? What? Where did you obtain this object? From whom? Simple chains of questions like this can get you thinking about something else entirely and soon you will forget whatever scary thing was haunting you long enough to sleep.
  2. Listen to soothing music. Whatever kind of music you find soothing, play it softly as you attempt to drift off to sleep. Music can be helpful in getting to sleep either before or as you go to sleep.[2]
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    • If you associate silence with whatever scared you, concentrating on soothing music can help distract you enough to get to sleep comfortably.
    • If you play a musical instrument, try to concentrate on how you might play your chosen soothing music yourself. What key is it in? What is the time signature? Again, going through these kinds of questions can distract you from your fear, and the next thing you know, you’ll be waking up!
  3. Count sheep. It might sound silly, but the same kinds of methods you might use to fall asleep when you aren’t scared might help with falling asleep when you are. Counting sheep is simply imagining sheep in your mind’s eye as you try to fall asleep, and assigning a number to each one. Mental exercises like this can help you get to sleep.[3]
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    • You don’t have to limit yourself to sheep — imagine the entire animal kingdom if it helps!
    • Let your imagination give detail to the animals you imagine, sheep or otherwise. Concentrate on their fleece/fur, hooves/feet, etc. Again, you are trying to distract yourself, so the more detail you imagine, the more likely you are to stop being scared and start falling asleep.
  4. Concentrate on your breath. One way people who meditate enter a tranquil state is by concentrating on their breath as they breathe.[4] This can be an effective way to help you fall asleep as well.
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    • One way to concentrate on the breath to clear your mind of fears and fall asleep is to count breaths. Count each breath you take after you breathe out and you might be able to enter a tranquil enough state to fall asleep in spite of your fear.
    • Another way to concentrate on the breath is by saying to yourself “in” and “out” as you breathe in and out. You don’t have to speak out loud, but just to yourself say “in” as you breathe in, and “out” as you breathe out, and so on.
  5. Try other calming activities. In addition to deep breathing, activities like meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or positive visualization can help relax you and calm your sympathetic nervous system, which is heightened due to the fear response. This is the system responsible for your flight or fight response, which can cause your heart rate to increase and cause body to release adrenaline, which will make it hard to sleep. These calming activities can help relax your sympathetic nervous system, which may help you get to sleep.
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EditAdjust Your Surroundings

  1. Leave your door open or closed — whichever makes you feel more comfortable.
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    • If leaving your door open lets in a little light or helps you feel less claustrophobic, for example, then leave your door open to help make your surroundings more comfortable as you try to fall asleep.
    • If closing the door as you fall asleep helps you feel more secure, then leave it closed as you try to fall asleep. Anything you can do to make yourself feel comfortable and safe as you fall asleep will contribute to your ability to fall asleep after seeing a movie that scares you, etc.
  2. Leave a light on as you try to fall asleep. Scary themes in film, television, etc. are often associated with the dark. If you leave a light on as you try to fall asleep, you can help mitigate your fears and fall asleep more easily. Too much light while you sleep, though, can actually prove detrimental to your health,[5] so it’s best not to make a habit of it.
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    • Leave a night light or small lamp on. This may give you reassurance without providing too much light and keeping you awake.
    • A television can provide soft light as you fall asleep too, even if you mute the sound and simply leave the television on for the light it gives off.
  3. Find ways to self-soothe. Think about if there are any items you have or rituals that you find comforting. A lucky rabbit’s foot you can rub, for instance, or a favorite blanket or stuffed animal to snuggle. Try petting your dog or cat, or hanging a dream catcher. Or maybe you find the act of making a cup of sleepy time tea and sipping it calming and comforting. Identify these self-soothing behaviors (you may need to experiment a little) and use them to help comfort and calm yourself.[6]
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    • If you are spiritual, you could keep something that is part of your religion nearby, such as beside the bed or under your pillow. Some items might include a rosary or crucifix, etc.

EditOccupy Your Mind

  1. Read a book. Books have a level of detail that makes it easy to fall into their stories and tune out the world around you in addition to your own thoughts and emotions — including fear generated by something scary — and the distraction from scary thoughts is not the only benefit reading before bed offers; there are several good reasons to read before bed in general.
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    • Be sure the book you choose is not scary or you will defeat the book’s purpose of occupying your mind.
    • Choose a book that is happy, funny, or complicated enough that you will occupy your mind effectively.
    • Consider a book that deals with a topic you find somewhat uninspiring—such as a school textbook or the like, as this alone might put you to sleep.
  2. Follow up a scary film with a comedy. Humor is a great way to occupy your mind when you are too scared to sleep. In fact, good humor, including laughter, is good for your health too.[7]
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    • The media you expose yourself to before sleep can affect your dreams, so watching something less scary before sleeping can keep you from having trouble sleeping in the first place.
    • Even better, choose something you are familiar with already — something you have already seen, like a favorite film — to watch after something scary. This will not only interrupt the possibility of the scary media affecting your dreams and your ability to sleep, but it might be comforting to some extent as well because it is familiar.
  3. Try crafting. A great way to occupy your mind when you are having trouble sleeping is by crafting. The repetition that many crafts require might act as just the mind occupier you need. Some crafts include:
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    • Crocheting
    • Knitting
    • Cross-stitch

EditConvince Yourself Your Fear is Unnecessary

  1. Remind yourself that what scared you is not real, so it could never happen to you. Thinking about whatever has scared you (whatever was depicted in the movie, book, or otherwise) in this way can be very helpful to overcoming your fear and getting to sleep.
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    • If the film or novel, etc. that has scared you is something that did actually happen, consider the likelihood that something this extreme could, in fact, happen to you. Chances are, it is quite unlikely that you will have a similar experience, particularly after just having been exposed to that situation in a film.
  2. Imagine that a character you admire is there to help you. This could be someone real or made up. For example, pretend a friendly dragon is guarding your door, ready to protect you.
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    • You could even make up ways to make a scary scene in a book or a film look silly or funny, so that whatever has scared you doesn’t seem so scary.
    • Imagine that you and an outrageous or awesome hero defeat whatever is scaring you in the most over-the-top way possible.
    • Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get whatever is scaring you out of your head, but consider this: if an author or filmmaker can make these things up, then they are just ideas. Thinking of whatever has scared you in this way might help you overcome your fear.
  3. Try to focus on the differences between where you are and the setting of the film or novel that has scared you. Chances are the differences are significant enough that you will be able to alleviate your fears and get to sleep.
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    • For example in the film Paranormal Activity, the characters’ bed is right next to the door. If your bed is on the other side of the room, could you experience the same situation?
    • If whatever has scared you is fictional, then chances are it won’t even matter where the action takes place, because the story is made up. With this in mind, you may be able to come to the conclusion that you have nothing to fear.

EditSeek Help from Other People

  1. Ask someone about their day. Talking to someone else about their day can distract you from your fears. If it’s not too late, chat with or call a friend and say “I saw a really scary movie today, and I’m still feeling scared. Can we talk for a while? What did you do today?” Focusing on your friend can help distract, calm, and ground you. Ask your friend to talk about their lives, but to avoid scary subjects.
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  2. Talk to someone about your fear. Talking about your fears can help alleviate them because sometimes just discussing your fears out loud can help you discover how unnecessary they are.
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    • Talk to a parent. You mother or father might be able to provide the comfort you need.
    • Talk to a friend. Friends make up an important part of our support systems, so they may provide just the outlet you need to overcome your fears.
    • Talk to your significant other. Few will be able to understand you and your fears as well as your significant other — husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. Talking to your significant other might also help you overcome your fears.
  3. Sleep with someone else. You might feel more secure sleeping with someone else — a significant other, parent, friend, sibling, etc.
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    • If you usually sleep with someone else, such as a significant other, ask them to hug you as you sleep for a comforting sense of security.
    • If you feel comfortable sleeping with a friend, this might also be helpful.
    • Depending on your age, you may feel comfortable sleeping in a bed with one or both parents or a sibling to help feel secure and overcome your fear.
  4. Seek professional help. If you find you are getting scared easily and cannot overcome your fear even to sleep, you might consider speaking with a psychiatrist.
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    • Speaking with a psychiatrist does have a certain stigma, but don’t be too proud — especially if you are losing sleep.
    • A psychiatrist might be able to offer you medication that will calm you or help you sleep, though these medications should be neither expected nor abused.


  • Try watching the “Behind the Scenes” section of the movie if available. This will reassure you that it is all pretend.
  • Sleep with a pet in the room or on the bed for support.
  • Don’t read scary books or watch scary movies in your bedroom or wherever you plan on sleeping; doing so might associate that space with whatever was scary and make it difficult for you to sleep.
  • Research films and novels ahead of time to see how scary they really are if you have a tendency to get scared by such things.
  • Watch scary movies when you know you won’t be sleeping alone, such as at a sleepover.
  • Look away from the screen when parts of a scary film get especially scary.
  • Cover your ears if something scary is happening or is about to happen, this way you can see the movie but all the scary noises are gone.
  • Watch or read something very funny to get your mind off of it.
  • If your surroundings are similar to that of the movie or story, such as the closet to your bedroom, leave the door open with a nightlight in it or near by it, or stuff it full so you’re sure no one could fit in there.
  • Remind yourself that it is all acting. It isn’t real!
  • If you are watching on an iPad or other device have a backup device so that you can watch something like a comedy on the other device.


  • Respect other people. If you’re having a sleepover and some friends wish to opt out of a scary movie, don’t force them to watch.
  • Never watch scary movies if you are heavily affected by scary content.
  • Without proper attention to the steps mentioned above, some movies/books can have an effect that lasts weeks, even months after first seeing/reading them.

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