Shedding Light on the Fear of the Dark (Nyctophobia)

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Shedding Light on the Fear of the Dark (Nyctophobia)

It is normal for kids to be afraid to the dark, but if you are still afraid even you are an adult that is already a phobia. / Photo by: Benoit Daoust via 123RF


Being afraid of the dark is considered a normal part of growing up and is a common occurrence in children ages six to 12. Around that age, it usually is not considered a phobia.

However, some people never grow out of it. That fear of the dark becomes irrational and starts to cause them anxiety. As it progresses, the symptoms begin to worsen. This is when it becomes a phobia. This is when an individual is diagnosed with the condition of having Nyctophobia.

Nyctophobia is identified as the fourth most common phobia in the world.

A 2012 study shows that Nyctophobia is a  major cause of insomnia in adults.

In a survey conducted by Bensons for bed among 2000 British adults, 17% still sleep without turning their lights off. It is also reported that 11% of Americans are afraid of the dark.

Nyctophobia is a portmanteau of two Greek words meaning fear of the dark. / Photo by: Peter Hermes Furian via 123RF


Nyctophobia is defined by Viralsense Healthcare as the irrational, and excessive fear of darkness or night.

According to Ethan Green, founder of No Sleepless Nights, it is also known as Achluophobia, Scotophobia and Lygophobia. It is derived from the two Greek terms “nyctus” which means “night” or “darkness” and “phobos” which means “fear”.  



It is stated that in the past, this fear may have developed as a form of self-defense. As for the modern times, Nyctophobia is usually linked to a person’s negative experience, mostly trauma.

Some of the factors that can cause an individual to have an irrational fear of darkness include:

1. Evolutionary Theory

It is believed by evolutionists that it was a useful phobia for the human ancestors. Since predators would frequently attack them at night, they acquired a practical anxiety of being scared of the dark. This was also helped in protecting the children.


2. Life-threatening situations

If a person has experienced crashes, fires or other similar accidents, they are likely to develop this phobia.


3. Childhood abuse and neglect

If an individual has been subject to traumatic experiences such as being physically and sexually abused or neglected during their childhood, these may lead them to be afraid of the dark.


4. Consumption of media that involves horror, ghost, gore and paranormal activity

A person who often reads and watches media with elements of horror may find it hard to sleep with lights off because the dark may induce fearful thoughts. The darkness may remind them of what they have just read or watched.


5. Mistreatment in adulthood

As an adult, they may have experienced being tortured, attacked or have been through some form of mistreatment.


6. Genetics

If their family has a history of having phobias they are likely to have Nyctophobia.

Studies reveal that people may also be afraid of the dark because of the scarcity of visual stimuli. This simply means that since people cannot see anything in the dark, they are afraid of it.




There are differences in the observable signs and symptoms between children and adults who suffer from Nyctophobia. These are:

Symptoms in Children

1. Bed-wetting

2. Crying

3. Tantrums and screaming

4. Thumb-sucking

5. Freezing

6. Regression (Baby talking)

7. Not wanting to sleep without a light on

Symptoms in Adults

1. Having difficulty breathing

2. Chest pain, heart beating extremely fast and getting a choking sensation

3. Having appetite problems

4. Shaking or shivering

5. Feeling pain


Other General Symptoms

Lisa Fritscher, a psychologist from the University of Florida points out that these are other additional symptoms which be found in both adults and children:

1. Feeling nervous when being at a dark location

2. Being hesitant to go outside at night

3. Trying to escape from dark rooms

4. Being hostile towards those who coax them to spend time in the dark.



One of the treatments for people having fear of the dark is a group sharing session. / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123RF


An individual suffering from Nyctophobia may take three kinds of approaches for their treatment. They may try therapy, self-help techniques or get some medication. They may also choose to have a combination of all of these.



The Nyctophobia patient may undergo these therapies to overcome their fear of darkness:

1. Desensitization

This involves gradually exposing the patient to darkness to make them less afraid of it.


2. Talk therapy

Being able to seek counsel from a therapist can also help them.


3. Family therapy

Making not only the patient but their family aware of their condition and how to cope with it can reduce or remove their fear.


4. Group therapy

Participating in a therapy where there are patients who are diagnosed with the same fear may also facilitate their recovery.

It also noted that using Cognitive Behavioral therapy is 90% effective in treating this kind of phobia. The aim of the therapy would be to counter fearful beliefs about the dark by turning negative self-talk to positive ones.


Self- help

It is advised that the patient also gets educated about relaxation techniques.



The individual affected by Nyctophobia may also take the following medication:

1. Anti-anxiety medication

2. Antidepressant medication

In helping reduce children ’s fear of the darkness, parents are advised to do some positive and relaxing activities with them such as drawing or talking. They are also encouraged to provide the child with a comforter which can be a blanket, a stuffed toy or a night light.

For adults who suffer from the same condition, they are recommended to get professional help from a therapist or try self-help.




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