What Is Nyctophobia?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 10, 2022
5 min read

Phobias, especially specific phobias, are a type of anxiety disorder. They are a lasting fear of a specific situation, object, or activity, and are often uncontrollable and irrational. These phobias can often overwhelm the individual experiencing them and cause the person to go to extremes to avoid these irrational fears. When confronted with these fears, a panic attack can ensue. These attacks are often sudden and intense fears that can last several minutes. Left untreated, panic attacks and phobias can affect the quality of your life and affect how you perform at work, school, and even at home. 

Phobias can happen in childhood and adulthood but are mostly observed from ages 15 to 20. Many phobias are known, and around 19 million Americans experience one or more, ranging from mild to severe. Phobias can range from the fear of bacteria to the fear of people, animals, heights, flying, cars, and more. 

One common phobia among people is nyctophobia.  

But what is nyctophobia? What are the symptoms and causes, and how is it treated? 

Fear of being in the darkness (nyctophobia) is sometimes called scotophobia or lygophobia. Nyctophobia itself is derived from the Greek word for night. As its name implies, those experiencing nyctophobia are afraid of the dark. It’s a widespread phobia, especially in children. Up to 45% of children experience phobia, and nyctophobia is one of the most common, particularly in children between 6 and 12. Many children outgrow nyctophobia, but some don’t. 

Nyctophobia is more than just being afraid of the dark. It’s also a fear of what you can’t see. Nyctophobia can be worsened by noises that can be heard through the dark without a visual cause. 

Nyctophobia can range in severity. Some children feel so fearful of the dark that they don’t want to go to bed in the dark, or they ask their parents to stay with them. Some children may fear what’s lurking in the dark and ask their parents to check for monsters hiding under their beds or in the closet.

A person with nyctophobia may experience extreme anxiety when entering dark places, during bedtime, when the sun sets, thinking about the dark, or watching a TV show or movie with nighttime scenes children. A person may also experience excessive sweating, dread, panic attacks, intense emotions, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, non-cardiac chest pain, or heart palpitations. 

Other Nyctophobia symptoms may include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

What are some nyctophobia causes?

Fear of darkness phobia can affect people of all ages, though it’s most common in children. Individuals who have had traumatic experiences in the dark are more susceptible to developing nyctophobia. For example, if another person physically hurt someone in the dark, they may associate the dark with that memory. Another example would be a terrifying storm that results in a power outage. Perhaps the storm is so intense that the walls shake and tornado sirens go off. This can result in nyctophobia and fear of storms and tornadoes. 

When nyctophobia happens as a result of a traumatic experience, it’s often related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Another common cause of nyctophobia occurs after watching a horror movie or hearing a distressing story. The images from these movies and stories may haunt you, and you may end up fearing something from them is lurking in the shadows. 

You may also be at an increased risk of developing nyctophobia if you have a certain disorder or condition, including: 

What are some nyctophobia treatment options?

Nyctophobia can be treated through medical providers, such as doctors and therapists, or home care. For example, insomnia caused by nyctophobia may be treated with melatonin supplements, which can be prescribed by your doctor or your child’s doctor. Medication can also be prescribed to treat panic attacks and depression. 

If a traumatic experience is causing your nyctophobia, then your doctor may recommend that you see a therapist or counselor.

If you begin therapy, your therapist may provide you with certain treatment plans, including: 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy 
  • Exposure therapy
  • Hypnotherapy 
  • Psychotherapy
  • Mindfulness exercises

How Parents Can Help

One treatment for children with phobias is exposure with response prevention. Parents can help their children with this treatment by exposing them to their specific phobia, in this case, nyctophobia. For this treatment to work, it’s recommended that parents put their child face-to-face with their fear. For nyctophobia, parents can leave their child in a dark room and prevent them from getting the responses they normally would, such as being allowed to leave the room or having you come in to help them. 

To make this treatment effective, it’s important that you work with your child to practice coping methods, such as deep breathing and repeating positive and brave affirmations. These affirmations could range from “I am brave” to “I am safe”, or whatever else may help your child in these situations. 

As your child practices deep breathing, encourage these steps: 

  • Slowly and deeply breathe in through the nose 
  • As you’re breathing in, feel your belly fill up with air 
  • Hold your breath in and slowly count to five 
  • Use your mouth to breathe out slowly, as though you’re blowing out a candle 
  • Count to five again as you breathe out 

As this treatment is done over time, the child should begin feeling more at ease in the dark room. Eventually, they may even start liking the dark room and associating it as a good place to rest for the next day. 

Another way parents can help their child who experiences nyctophobia is through using nightlights or leaving the door open with the hallway light on. This may even help adults who have nyctophobia. 

Other Treatments

There are a few other steps that may help those who experience nyctophobia, whether you’re an adult or someone helping a child through theirs. These steps include:

  • Using cognitive thinking to help change how your thoughts react to the phobia. For example, you could reassure yourself or your child that darkness is not harmful and that nothing lurks in the dark that wants to hurt you. 
  • Using muscle relaxation CDs and music to help relax your muscles and keep you from experiencing anxiety, worry, and fright. This type of content can help you relax your muscles and keep them relaxed, as well as teach you relaxation techniques to maintain a relaxed state of mind.
  • Exposure therapy. Whether you’re an adult or a child, exposing yourself gradually to what you find scary, in this case, the darkness, can eventually help you overcome your fear. This can be done by starting in a slightly dark room and decreasing the light every so often until you’re left in absolute darkness. It may also be beneficial to be in dark rooms when it’s daylight outside. You can leave some light exposed through the blinds or curtains.