Nyctophobia, this term may not mean anything to you, but the phobia that results from it is well known. The phobia of the dark… Do you find it very difficult to stay in a room in the dark? Do you feel compelled to turn on the light? Perhaps you suffer from nyctophobia.

woman who can't sleep - nyctophobia fear of the dark

1. What is noctophobia?

Nyctophobia comes from the Greek “nycto” meaning “night” and the Greek “phobos” meaning “fear”. Like all phobias, it is not only a fear of something, but an irrational fear of it. It is a fear that mainly affects children, but adults can also suffer from it. People suffering from nyctophobia are ashamed to talk about it, even though it can have an important impact on their personal and professional life.

In children, fear of the dark is a relatively common fear, but it is often temporary and people suffering from it are more or less able to manage it. However, when this fear starts to take up a lot of space in the child’s or adult’s night life, when it starts to become unbearable and persistent, then it is no longer a classic fear but a phobia. This phobia can have important repercussions such as sleep disorders, the desire to sleep with one’s parents, numerous nightmares…).

We talk about “fear of the dark“, but very often it is not the dark itself that causes anxiety, but the fear of dangers, of what could be hidden in this dark.

2. Nyctophobia as a child

Why are children afraid of the dark?

Children’s fear of the dark mainly occurs between the ages of 2 and 5. The development of this fear can be explained by the fact that it is around the age of 2 that the child begins to understand that he loses his bearings when he is in the dark. How do they know there isn’t a monster hiding under the bed or in the wardrobe? And if he has to get up, how can he find his way when he can’t see anything? The darkness plus the silence of the night make noises all the more important, without being able to see or understand their source… The child can no longer control anything in his environment.

Another factor that encourages the development of this type of fear is the overactive imagination of our children. Indeed, they are used to hearing many stories about animals that are going to come and eat them… they are used to creating a whole imagination that favours the many possibilities of what could happen in that dark or obscure room.


How to help a child with a fear of the dark?

If your child suffers from an intense fear or fear phobia, don’t hesitate to put into words with him/her how he/she feels. Try as much as possible to be a sympathetic and understanding listener to what your child is experiencing. Take the time to reassure them about their fears. You can explain that many children like him/her are afraid of the dark. You can remind him/her of all the times he/she has managed to face his/her fears and that this time it will be the same. Try to find the most suitable solutions with him/her that would allow him/her to be less afraid in the dark.

For example: you can accompany him to go round his room, the cupboards and look with him under his bed and thus reassure him that nothing is there.

You can also set up a nightlight to reassure him that he always has a little light in the room. You can also offer to keep the door open if he wants to.


3. Fear of the dark as an adult

There are several explanations for the continued fear of the dark in adulthood. One of these is the traumatic reason. If you have experienced a traumatic event when you were in a dark environment, for example. Traumatic events in childhood include being put in the dark as a punishment. Sexual abuse or violence that was committed at night can also be found.

What are the symptoms of a fear of the dark?

Among the physiological symptoms, we find the same types of symptoms as in other phobias: an accelerated heart rate, increased sweating, trembling, difficulty breathing, feelings of oppression… The physiological symptoms are similar to those of a panic attack.

There are also more psychological symptoms such as fear of death (linked to thanatophobia), fear of finding monsters in the bedroom, under the bed, in the wardrobe… which can lead to significant checking behaviours (OCD) and which can take time. There are also sleep disorders, with fear of falling asleep or restless sleep. The need to avoid certain situations can lead us to feel this anxiety.

Ultimately, your brain will associate the dark with anxious thoughts and dangers.

What are the consequences for adults of nyctophobia?

Nyctophobia can have many consequences in adulthood. Indeed, if you suffer from it, as seen previously, you may suffer from sleep disorders linked to this phobia, you may have a lot of difficulty in sleeping, in falling asleep or you may have an agitated sleep. This lack of sleep can gradually impact your personal and professional life, with major concentration difficulties and a drop in productivity. Moreover, being tired will also lower your immune system and weaken you.


4. How to overcome noctophobia?

There are different ways to get rid of nyctophobia.

If you suffer from this phobia yourself, there are ways to reduce your anxiety by yourself:

  • Avoid being in total darkness by not closing the shutters, for example.
  • Read a book: Dropping the phone at bedtime to pick up a book that you enjoy will help you fall asleep more peacefully and thus make you less anxious about the night.
  • Identify the different noises you can hear around you, to reassure yourself why they are there.

Among these solutions proposed above, some can be considered as avoidance solutions. Avoidance can help when the situation is too anxiety-provoking, but at the same time reinforces the phobia. Therefore, avoidance is not a permanent solution.

You can also undergo therapy. The most recommended therapies for phobias are cognitive behavioural therapies. During the sessions and outside the sessions, you will work on 3 main areas:

  • Identification of your emotions: The identification of the emotions and physical sensations linked to the phobia will allow you to start working on managing your emotions. The therapist will provide you with different tools that will be useful in the context of the phobia but also in everyday life. These tools are simple and adapted to you and your problem
  • Identification of dysfunctional thoughts: “Being in the dark reminds me that I could die at any moment, if I find myself in complete darkness I will die”, “there is something hiding under the bed”… All these thoughts that go round and round in your head when the moment comes to find yourself in the dark. The therapist will help you to identify these thoughts and to change them into more positive and realistic ones (cognitive restructuring).
  • Behaviour modification: As with many phobias, people will tend to avoid anxiety-provoking situations. As darkness can be found in different situations, physical avoidance is not always possible. However, other types of avoidance can be put in place (such as putting a light on, not going to certain places likely to be in the dark…). The therapist will accompany you so that you can gradually re-expose yourself to the situations that are causing you anxiety.