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Fear of the Dark


Updated June 04, 2014

Girl asleep in bed lit only by night light.
Donald Iain Smith/Moment/Getty Images

Nyctophobia, or fear of the dark, is one of the most common phobias in children. In many cases, childhood nyctophobia passes as the child matures. In older children and adults, however, nyctophobia can become crippling.

Nonetheless, most people retain a bit of a fear of the dark throughout life. This fear may be evolutionary in nature, as many predators hunt at night. Consequently, darkness is a frequently used element in horror movies and Halloween events.

For example, at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2008, nyctophobia is presented in a unique way. The event’s theme is phobias and in the presented scenario, a photographer fears not only the dark but the images that are captured in his camera’s flash. He is forced to confront the images he sees in a technique called “Total Immersive Phobia Exposure Therapy.”

Symptoms of Nyctophobia

If you have a phobia of the dark, you are likely to become nervous in any darkened environment. You may sleep with a nightlight. You might be reluctant to go out at night. You will likely experience an increased heart rate, sweat, shake and even feel ill when forced to spend time in the dark.

If your nyctophobia is severe, you may attempt to run away from dark rooms and avoid being outside at night. You might become angry or defensive if anyone tries to encourage you to spend time in the dark.

Treatment for Nyctophobia

In the Halloween Horror Nights scenario mentioned above, the photographer is physically restrained and forced to confront the images in his camera’s flash. This is an extreme interpretation of an actual phobia treatment technique known as flooding. However, a mental health professional would never restrain the client and force him or her to participate. The client remains in control during real-life flooding sessions.

Treatment for nyctophobia is often drawn from the cognitive-behavioral school of therapy. Anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed. The goal of therapy is to challenge your fearful beliefs about the dark and help you to replace negative self-talk with more positive messages.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Phobias
  4. Introduction to Phobias
  5. Phobias I-Z
  6. Nyctophobia (Fear of the Dark) Symptoms and Treatment

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