One of the first things experts advise for getting restful, restorative sleep, is to make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. But what if that kind of darkness scares you? If you are fearful, experience sweating, shaking or heart palpitations, or feel that you are losing control and can't think rationally when the lights go out, it's time to get help.

A Little Light on the Subject

Fear of the dark is often the last of childhood fears to linger on, sometimes into adulthood. The solution may seem obvious: sleep with a night light. But some researchers say sleeping with a nightlight may do more harm than good. Darkness tells your internal clock that it's time to sleep. Light, on the other hand, indicates it is time to wake up.  Light is stimulating, and stimulation interferes with quality sleep.

Light also affects our brain levels of melatonin, a hormone that plays an important role in regulating sleep/wake cycles. When these cycles are disrupted, health problems that occur as a result of lack of quality sleep are bound to follow.

Irrational Fears

Fear of darkness is a type of specific phobia, or irrational fear of one particular thing, just like fear of heights or fear of germs. Clinically, fear of the darkness, or nighttime, is known as nyctophobia, or scotophobia. If you suffer from a fear of the dark, you may feel terrified at night, have panic attacks, or exist in a constant state of anxiety, especially if you live alone.

According to the American Institute of Preventive Medicine, if a specific phobia, such as nyctophobia, does not go away by adulthood, therapeutic counseling and other types of treatments are available and are usually necessary. The root of nyctophobia is usually an unresolved psychological problem that may or may not have to do with a past trauma that was actually experienced in darkness.

Professional Help

Behavioral therapy can help to slowly desensitize you to darkness through relaxation response techniques and gradual or ongoing exposure to darkness in a controlled setting. Group therapy and self-help support groups can also help. If you suffer from panic disorder or an extreme phobia, anti-anxiety medication and other medicines can help reduce symptoms of fear, which in turn can help you confront your fear. Specific phobias in adults generally will not go away on their own.



Powell, Don R. "Minding Your Mental Health: Phobias." American Institute of Preventive Medicine. 2004. Web 8 Dec 2010

Purdue University. "Fear: Phobias." 18 Jan 2005 Web. 8 Dec 2010.

Thobaben, M. "Common Phobias." Home Care Provider. 1997 Oct;2(5):215-7. Web. 8 Dec 2010.