Can’t sleep after watching a scary movie? We’ve all been there. Whether you’ve just watched a horror movie or thriller, read a dark chapter of a book, or binged a particularly gory television series (hello, The Walking Dead), you might now be hesitant to turn your bedroom lights off.
Of course you know zombies aren’t going to infiltrate your bedroom, and the likelihood of a mass murderer living next door is slim, but that doesn’t stop you feeling like you shouldn't go to sleep just yet…
Why do scary movies make it so hard to sleep?
The reason scary films, TV shows and even books can make it hard to get to sleep after we’ve consumed them is because our body’s fight or flight response is activated.
Your body has spent the last 2 hours or so perceiving a potential threat - you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for those jump scares, and your body won’t instantly go back to normal once the credits roll.
Your body’s levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline have increased, and it can take some time for these hormones to settle again. There are, however, some expert tips you can try that will help your mind relax and drift off quicker.
1. Talk about it and rationalise
A problem shared is a problem halved - and that works for being scared, too. Talking out loud about the film or show you’ve just watched can help you rationalise your fears.
Hearing yourself talk about the film out loud can help you understand how silly it is to imagine it happening in real life. If the movie was about something slightly more realistic than aliens or similar, such as someone breaking in at night, think about whether you would’ve been so scared had you not watched the movie - nothing has changed!
Talking about the cinematography can help, too, such as the camera angles and lighting. This will help you view the film as exactly that - a film, rather than real life.
2. Face your fears
A technique often used with treating OCD and phobias, ‘flooding’ can help you face your fears quickly. Flooding works as an intensive type of exposure therapy, where you force yourself to face your fear for an extended period of time.
If, for example, you’re scared of the dark after watching a scary movie, you can force yourself to turn the lights off and get into bed. While it might seem scary at first, after a while you’ll realise that nothing bad is happening - no zombies have approached, no one is trying to break in through the window.
At the end of the day, you’ll need to go to sleep at some point, so you might as well just force yourself to do it!
3. Watch the movie bloopers or behind the scenes clips
When you’re frightened of the scary characters in a horror movie, you might irrationally think they’re real or in your house. An easy way to overcome this is to view them exactly as they are - characters played by actors.
Search the film on YouTube, and find clips of the actors filming or bloopers of them messing up. This will reassure you that the characters aren’t real, and are just normal people playing a part.
Interviews with actors talking about the film can help too, as this will reiterate that it's completely made up and will seperate the actor from the character.
4. Distract yourself and relax your mind
A common way of getting over a horror movie or thriller is to watch something of a completely opposite genre. Switch on some cartoons or a funny show, and remind yourself that it's not all gore and suspense.
Laughter will help dissipate your fears, as well as increase endorphins (feel good hormones) which will make it easier to relax.
You can also distract yourself with something that requires focus, such as a crossword or sudoku - if your brain is concentrating on something intently, you’ll be less likely to think about what you’ve just watched.
5. Amend your surroundings
If you’re really too scared to sleep, try changing things up in your bedroom. Lots of people feel more secure when their door is shut, so secure all of your doors and windows.
You could also ask someone to sleep in your room with you, or if you have a family pet, try to coax them onto your bed. Our article on how sleeping next to your dog can benefit your sleep will show you there’s loads of advantages to sharing your bed with your furry friend!
You could also leave your TV playing something neutral (like a cartoon or sitcom) at a low volume in the background, just so you feel less alone.
Can watching too many horror movies cause insomnia?
How easy it is to sleep after watching a horror movie completely depends on the individual. Some people shrug scary stuff off as soon as it’s over, while others struggle for much longer to rid their mind of the plot.
One thing is for certain, however, and that is that horror movies do raise cortisol levels which notoriously make it hard to sleep. If you watch scary movies or TV shows every night, there’s a chance you’ll consistently struggle to get to sleep.
On the other hand, viewing horror content consistently can desensitise you to the tension, with your body less likely to perceive a threat, so scary movies won’t have as much of an effect on you.
If you are struggling to get to sleep every night, and you also consume a lot of horror and gore, we’d recommend giving yourself a break to see if it helps. There are plenty of other good films and shows out there that don’t get your heart racing quite as fast!