Are You Afraid of the Dark? You're Not the Only One

Where there’s sleep, there’s darkness. And while we know it’s common for kids to be afraid of the dark, it’s not so common that we acknowledge that adults fear the dark too.

Extreme fear of the dark (nyctophobia) is personified by an array of physical and emotional symptoms that can be debilitating. According to Healthline, these symptoms can be triggered even when an individual is thinking about the dark, let alone actually being the dark. Nyctophobia can also be tied to insomnia, a sleep disorder that millennials are no strangers to.

In a 2012 sleep study done by the Department of Psychology at Ryerson University, a group of students were asked to complete questionnaires regarding their sleep behaviours, history of fearing the dark as a child, and whether or not they still feared the dark. Researchers then exposed students to noises in both lit and dark rooms. The results? Students who identified as poor sleepers were more likely to feel startled and anxious by anticipating the noises in the dark than the other students (the good sleepers), who actually got used to the noises.

Fearing the dark is something that most don’t want to admit. It’s also a fear that most identify incorrectly. “A phobia or fear of the dark is different from a fear of spiders. People don’t necessarily know they have it,” said Colleen Carney, lead author and psychology professor, to Time. “An individual may not be able to fall asleep once it’s dark and their mind starts to wander. They think, ‘What if someone breaks into my house?’ Instead of realizing these associations may indicate a fear of the dark, they skip a step and assume they have a fear of burglars.”

According to Statistics Canada, only half of Canadians are satisfied with their personal safety from crime. How is this relevant? Personal safety is linked to your well-being, and feeling insecure can negatively affect your physical and mental health on all fronts, including your sleep experience.

It makes sense that we fear what we can’t see. (Is that a larger metaphor for life? Probably, but we digress.) Darkness makes us uncomfortable because we can’t discern what’s coming. It’s like that saying, “Don’t leave me in the dark.” You want to know what’s going on because the unlimited possibilities that the darkness brings is, well, terrifying. The paranoia it inspires, too, is enough to make us double-check that the door is locked, the windows are closed, and that you’re tightly tucked in.  

But when something disrupts the natural hum of your home, the mind sprints to nervous places because you can’t immediately see what may have happened.

The solution could be as simple as outfitting your home with new locks and an alarm system for peace of mind. You could also just use a night-light. If, however, your distress fails to lessen and you’re finding it’s inhibiting your lifestyle, it might be time to consider professional help. One effective technique is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which teaches you how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones to better understand situations.

Options exist to better control how darkness manifests itself into our psyches, and it all starts with recognizing your fear and taking the proactive steps to manage it. Just remember: being afraid of the dark is a fear many people never grow out of, so you’re not the only one.