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Afraid of the Dark? Not Just for Kids

Afraid of the dark?

If you are an adult and are afraid of the dark, there are a few things you should know. One, fear of the dark is not limited to kids; and two, if you have insomnia, your fear of the dark could be one reason why.

Study sheds light on fear of the dark

If you do a literature search for information on fear of the dark or being afraid of the dark, you will find surprisingly little on the topic, especially when it comes to adults. Not that being afraid of the dark is anything to scoff at: millions of kids are afraid of the dark and are convinced that something awful is lurking in their closet, under their bed, or somewhere else in the house.

This fear of the dark typically first appears when kids are 2 to 3 years old, when their imaginations begin to emerge and they are not able to tell the difference between what's real and what's fantasy. When the lights are turned off at bedtime, that's a time when a child's imagination can take over.

Adults afraid of the dark
A new study conducted at Ryerson University Sleep & Depression Lab in Toronto and presented at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston reports that nearly half of the 93 undergraduate students tested said they were afraid of the dark. These same students also said they were poor sleepers.

The study participants consisted of individuals who said they were either good sleepers or poor sleepers. All the students were tested in rooms that were well-lit and those that were dark.

When the participants were in well-lit rooms, the investigators presented them with sudden noises and measured their blink responses. Both the good sleepers and poor sleepers responded in a similar way.

However, when the participants were placed in dark rooms and presented with sudden noises, the two groups reacted differently In fact, the good sleepers become used to the noises, while the poor sleepers grew increasingly anxious and startled with each noise burst. These findings suggest that people who are poor sleepers may have an untreated phobia--a fear of the dark.

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According to the study's lead author, Taryn Moss, "we assume that poor sleepers become tense when the light go out because they associate the bed with being unable to sleep. [That is, a self-fulfilling prophecy of worrying you won't be able to fall asleep.] Now we're wondering how many people actually have a active and untreated phobia."

If you are a poor sleeper and suffer from a lack of sleep, here are few clues that you may have a fear of the dark:

  • Do you always keep the television, a lamp, or a nightlight on when you're in bed? (While you may be worried about getting up at night and falling because you can't see, this worry can be remedied by keeping a light by the bedside that you can easily turn on when you want to get up during the night.)
  • Do you constantly worry someone might be trying to break into the house at night?
  • Do you find yourself straining to listen to the sounds around you once you turn off the light?
  • Do you get anxious or tense when you walk into a dark room?

The study's principal investigator, Colleen Carney, PhD, is also the author of Quiet Your Mind and Get to Sleep: Solutions to Insomnia for Those with Depression, Anxiety or Chronic Pain. Carney noted that for adults who have a fear of the dark, "We may need to add treatment components for these patients and adapt existing treatment components in light of the phobia."

If you are an adult who is afraid of the dark and who is having trouble sleeping, you might try some of Carney's suggestions. For example, practice defeating your fear by going into dark rooms during the day.

Gradually work your way to being in a completely dark room by yourself for increasingly longer periods of time. If you sleep alone, having someone (or a pet) by your side can relieve your anxiety.

If you are a poor sleeper, you may be afraid of the dark, and overcoming this fear could help you be a better sleeper and a more alert, healthy individual.

ALSO READ: Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Are people with insomnia afraid of the dark? A pilot study. Ryerson University Sleep & Depression Lab, presented at SLEEP 2012

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Updated January 9, 2017



I'm 42 years old, and have just recently become afraid of the dark. I first encountered it the feeling when my boyfriend and I found ourselves homeless unexpectedly. A friend of ours (who we really didn't know all that well) offered us to stay with him. Now he had no electricity at this place but did have a power cord the neighbor let him plug In and hade one lamp hooked up, plus a tv we could watch movies on with our DVD player. The longer we stayed there (all total ended up being about 10 weeks) we came to realize our friend and some mental issues and was suppose to be on some medication that he didn't take properly. We found his place all closed up with blankets covering all the windows and he didn't want anyone to talk very loud because people would her our conversation. We didn't think to much into it because the neighbors were pretty close and we could sorta hear them too. Well our friend got weirder after a while and we realized he didn't have his medicine and he got kinda scary wild. I ended up having a nightmare that he got up out of bed and tried to kill us. Well I couldn't stand being there anymore and could not go to sleep with the lights out. I thought moving would solve that problem but it didn't. Just the other night with the cold temperatures our power went out, now I was asleep when this happened but I woke up as soon as did. I found no lets would come one and suddenly I couldn't breathe and found myself searching for the door to open the shade so I could have at least some kind of light and breathe again. Is there a reason I would suddenly become afraid of the dark as an adult? Its not that I was afraid of anything being their so I don't understand why I felt like I couldn't breathe? Can you explain any of this to me please.
You went through a traumatic experience living with your friend and may being having panic attacks and anxiety. The experience may have been so traumatizing that you could also have PTSD. Talk to a counselor about these issues.
Why am I scared of the dark?? Because BAD stuff happens in the dark. I've seen ghosts, I've experienced gohrs and I know when the light go out they show up. and truly that is only one aspect. I also suffer from sleep paralysis and that in itself is the scariest sleep disorder in the world. I don't recall anything particularly traumatic happening to me. I can agree that having a tough upbringing has made me feel differently about things. This would shed light and encourage me to investigate further.
I feel you. I'm terrified of the dark because of what happened to me when I was 6. My friends pulled a prank on me when I was 6 and it traumatized me for life. Sleep paralysis is fucking scary. It's never happened to me. I heard its when the brain accidentally shuts down and your body can't move. I hope these ghosts leave you alone. I personally don't believe in God, but ghosts are real. I suggest telling a Friend. Friends are always helpful.
What if you dont have friends?
Hi I'm 20 years old and just recently I've become afraid of the dark when I lay in bed I keep thinking I see shadows move around and I'm terrified to close my eyes cause I'll see demons I'm terrified to even look away from my phone it's gotten so bad I stay up till 7-8 in the morning just to geta power nap in before work at 10 iI honestly don't know what to do I've tried everything and it seems to get worse...
Ali: I'm so sorry to hear you are having this problem. I am not a doctor, but I would suggest you talk to a professional therapist ASAP so you can determine the reason for your fear of the dark. Lack of sufficient sleep is dangerous for both your mental and physical health. Good luck to you.
I have the same problem with the darkness and being alone in the dark makes it wrose ..i take sleeping pills it helps me sleep but hasent helped with my fear.
I need help. Okay well I sleep pretty good. But when it comes to any type of darkness. Pitch black. Or some with a little light on. And I hear something. I stare for a little bit then I stat thinking of something is there. Well esp when my boyfriend isn't in the room with me. (he has no windows in his room) (but that's not why cause when I lived at home I had windows and I still felt like this) but I feel like everytime he leaves and I wake up I cant go back to sleep. I feel like something is going to grab my feet or come . I'm not scared of monsters. Or people breaking in. Or anything like that. Idk what it is. Anyone help? It sometimes gets so bad I just have to turn the lights on and stay that way for a good while
Yeah...I'm going to be 20 this year and I'm scared of the dark. In fact I'm only online right now because I woke up after an hour of sleep and couldn't fall back asleep. I've struggled with my fear of the dark for years and mine is definitely rooted in an overactive imagination. Whenever I close my eyes I feel like I'm being watched and I constantly am scared of ghosts. I don't know why it is always ghosts, maybe because they are something my mind never feels safe with. I imagine that if I open my eyes someone or something is going to be staring at me and I can actually feel my heart in my chest racing. One time it got really bad. One time I imagined about it and my heart started beating so fast and so hard that I was having chest pains. I just want to be able to sleep like a normal person. I have my midterm tomorrow. I have a roommate and when she's in the room with me, I'm fine. I feel like I'm safe if there is someone else in the room. I usually just sleep with my laptop illuminating the room, but clearly it doesn't always work. I also struggle with insomnia...usually I cannot fall asleep with too bright of a light on. It's a horrible combination. I don't have the money to get a doctor or anything, all I can do is...stay awake.
I fell the same way, but rather than ghosts, I'm scared that there is another person in the room. It doesn't help that my headboard is against a broken closet that is stuck open. I put my lava lamp on in the corner of my room. I feel better with the light on. Also, I'm not scared if there's a friend in the room with me. I suggest turning towards a wall and keep your eyes closed. Try to think of good things or fun things in your past. I know its hard to "clear your mind" but try
The reason you put your headboard against a broken closet door is because subconsciously you know something isn't right about that closet and you are trying to keep whatever is living in there from coming out. Well let me tell you something..... It can get out anyways. I have tried everything. There is something evil in that closet and if I were you, I would have it (cleansed). By a professional..... (priest, witch, etc.) I had the same thing happen to me. 28 years old, terrified of the dark because I have seen what lives there. ALL OF IT IS REAL... YOUR WORST NIGHTMARES ARE REAL. I have lived it and seen it first hand, and it is terrifying. Our bodies can feel vibes and energy. Listen to your body. Non believers don't understand and will try to tell you that this stuff doesn't exist, but I KNOW otherwise. Pray for a guardian angel to protect you as you sleep. Mine wraps his wings around me when I am going to bed alone but only if I ask him to. I don't know who your angel is, but everybody has one. You have to believe. Truly believe and you will be protected.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Are you a joke? These people on here are coming because like me, hey are scared of the dark? And you wrote that? Do you honestly think telling us our fears are correct and we should be scared is the right thing to do?? Wtf? I'm reading this in bed alone in the dark? And now I won't be able to sleep BECAUSE OF YOU! Im now terrified to even move! Thanks a bundle you inconsiderate life form.
I've been afraid of the dark since I was a child, I'm 35 now. The only different between then and now is when I was little, I wouldn't dare to go into the dark alone but now, I do it after working up the guts to do it. I have enough courage to go into the dark and go straight for the light switch. If the light doesn't come on or the bulb blows, that's a whole new can of worms. However, I don't mind being told that it's normal and that I should be afraid. It means my guard is higher than someone who doesn't as easily get the creeps as I do. I'm more likely to hear if someone has gotten into my home because of my paranoia than someone who would shrug it off as petty imagination. Of course I don't like being scared but I know it has it's advantages. I have a big house with a roommate, so I have my own bathroom, I keep a nightlight in there. However, I realized my fear of the dark was aggitating even at 35 when it's heavy storm season and the power suddenly goes out and I'm suddenly plunged into darkness. My immediate reaction was to throw the blanket over my head and instantly I thought to myself "WTF am I doing?" but at the same time, I didn't come out of the blanket. It was only about 2 minutes before the power came back on, and I got my lantern ready just in case. It's moments like that, where I feel it's not normal, but really it is a natural response to potential threat, even if there is no threat.
I have the exact same thing. I'm 19 and have been scared of the dark as long as I can remember. We recently moved house and the first thing I did was find all the light switches. It's weird because part of me knows its just stupid when I'm trying to turn the light on before walking along the dark hallway. And if someone asks me to go do something they forgot to do at night (like lock the shed) it literally takes all my courage to run across the drive and back alone. Also I can't look out windows at night because I'm terrified of what might be there even though I know there's nothing there!?
Well thanks for that! (sarcastic) I had found this chat because I just became scared of the dark. I was hoping it was all in my head, then I saw this! now I'm crazy and scared!!!
I'm 37 I was badly beaten by an ex boyfriend while I was sleeping and now thanks to that situation I was in I've had a bad phobea I'm sure most of u know what its called.I wasn't afraid of the dark ever even as a child and now I've been trying to cope for 7 years (2009) I've tried not to sleep with the TV on or lights on I've even tried falling asleep before 5am or sleeping before the sun comes up ..so far it's a no go unless I have a friend or family member in the same room where I'm sleeping ,and yes I'm single still to this day.Try being 37 and never married because others dont understand what its like or can't cope with the fact that this is me.I'm still the sweet kindhearted person I've always been since it happened when I was 31..So when I read things that say doctors can help just know now its not true I've been there and done that. It takes longer then what our so called "professionals" say or have said. I find comfort in food,music,family & friends.An I just want to say to who ever reads this I pray your life never gets to the way mine is and has been . Thanks for reading my comment. Sincerely ,K.Voirol
I have no idea why I'm suddenly so afraid of the dark! As a kid I remember it being unsettling, but never terrifying. I don't have bad dreams (none really at all that I can remember) or have ever had any traumatic events. Unless you count moving across country a year and a half ago traumatic. It was really sudden and unplanned. We lived in a creepy motel for a while; it wasn't great and I was super depressed (like Every time I looked at the shower rod I thought of hanging myself). I would get why I'm scared again it had been back then, but this year has been the same old same old. Maybe it's anxiety about the start if summer? I don't really know. I wouldn't be this freaked out (at lest not enough to leave a comment) if it weren't for the long family history of mental illness. Maybe I'm so freaked out because I recently got new furniture? That sounds like a super dumb reason, but it's dark black and every time I turn off uh lights I feel panicked. The longer the lights are out the harder it is to think. When I was like six I almost drowned in the ocean, it feels like that. After about thirty seconds all the furniture begins to look like tall dark figures. I find I feel better if I obsessively clean and if everything is in the perfect place (like rows of fours and weird patterns). I just want to know what's going on
I'm 17 and although it doesn't qualify me as an adult, I also have a mild fear of the dark. It's strange because I love the night, the moonlight, the dark, being alone as the day's relentless flow cools to ashes. But I am only afraid of the dark inside and around my own home. I usually explore darker places when we're away traveling, but whenever I'm home it feels like there are a thousand shadows waiting to grab hold of me and tear me apart. I don't remember anything traumatic that might have happened to me when I was younger, much less anything that could have scared me in my own home. It is truly strange, only recently I've become afraid of the dark, actually more afraid to be alone in my home in general. It feels like my house is too dark, like I'm just not safe no matter what I do, it feels like everywhere there is something, someone watching me. I don't know why I am so paranoid. But once I leave my home I leave that all behind me. I don't know why it feels like the Gmork or the Nothing is waiting for me in the shadows of my own home. It's supposed to be a safe haven, not my nightmare. As a kid I loved the dark, I still do, but why does it feel like the shadows in my home live?
I know how you feel wiciad.. I love the night time and I've even strolled around the supposedly one of the most drugged up places while I was staying at a friends. I'd never been there before and everything was new but I had no problem at all. But for some strange reason, I am afraid of the dark in my own home. I have to turn the lights on and off in a path to get to my room... Even when I get to the final light right before my bedroom, I look out into my house and I just stare while my heart rate increases, the I turn the light and rush into my room and close the door, I can't sleep fine with my light off in my room but my door has to be closed or just about closed (preferrably closed) like i dont know what it is for some strange reason, I love the night but I'm afraid of the dark in my own home..
Ok, I'm 12 years old, and I know this article was targeted for "adults" but I wouldn't put my fear of the dark in common with children... I have a big understanding of what is real and what is not, like I know there isn't a "monster" under my bed.. or a "monster" in my closet but I still don't keep my closet open ha-ha... Mine is more of like... I watch a, for example a movie about demons or Satan...and like the article said "•Do you find yourself straining to listen to the sounds around you once you turn off the light?" YES! I literally stay up all night just sitting there listening for.. nothing. Or another example like I would catch one of my favorite crime fighting shows "CSI, Bones, Law and Order, Criminal Minds and etc... and I would watch them for like hours because it has a lot to do with my career choices.. but anyways then I would go to bed.. but I couldn't sleep. I would just sit there with my fairy lights on scared that someone's going to break in my house... I share a room with my sister, sooooo sometimes I don't even go to sleep "thinking that if someone comes in its my job to protect her". My mom is a "light sleeper" but its hard to wake her up... and my sister is a "hard sleeper" but its easy to wake her up... does that make sense... Just last night I couldn't sleep till the daylight came out... 6am, I was just sitting there listening, waiting for nothing really... because we have like weapons and stuff but in the TV shows I watch, the weapons aren't doing crap and another weird thing is that I feel "safer" when I got to sleep before my sister, which isn't often.. Then there is like a little light crack under my door and when I finally turn my lights out on my side of the room (at like 3am) I RARELY ever face away from the door, like I literally lay there staring at the door trying to see if there are going to be some foot prints walking in my house...THERE NEVER IS BY THE WAY... Once again just last night I was jumping and tensing up at any noise or thing that moved...AND THE CRAZIEST THING IS THAT IM ACTUALLY SLEEPY.. like when I stay up late, late like at 5 and 6am, yes I'm really tired but I cant bring my self to stay asleep.. or even really close my eyes...and even when I am almost asleep, I jolt awake because my sister moved or there was a creak in my house or I moved... then when I finally go to sleep its like 7am the daylight is here and I'm asleep... and this is during the summer... I'm not going to make this longer than it needs to be but this is just the "basic" of why I cant sleep at night... if anyone has anything to add or say.. PLEASE PLEASE say something because ugh I'm tired... and scared lol... :) (PS sometimes a even get scared there is a deadly bug in my bed a night or something that keeps me awake too...)
Hello. I'm not an adult. I'm only 14 and I'm terrified of the dark. I try to sleep by myself in my room, but all these noises are terrible. I hear the floor creak at night and I hear my door move like if someone is trying to open the door but doesn't know how to open a door. I'm not scared when I'm with someone in the dark. Sometimes I bring my dog in the room. To keep me company, but sometimes she won't come in the room. Please I need help. I get bullied at school for being afraid of the dark. Sometimes the girls in the girls bathroom will shut the lights and hold the door closed. Please any methods that can help me would be thankful. Thank you!
Hey! Those girls will get theirs don't worry. I'm 29..... Terrified just woke up from a night terror.. In the dream I was laying in bed like I was in the dark and couldn't talk or scream to wake my boyfriend up... He says "what a joke" and bullies me for it.... I just know what your going through I'm sorry
Hi! I am going through the exact same thing you are, and I am also 14 but close to be 15 in a year. I mean exact. I live in a small apartment with my mom, brother, and a female cat. Whenever I'm in my room (it is really small with one window, and i leave my door open 24/7) at night I always here my floor creak when someone is walking in the halls, also my cat sometimes comes and lays in my room which is nice but not when she not in my room, I also have my one window where I have a dark certain. So when you look out my window all you see is "my private balcony" (kinda unstable) my backyard, my neighbors long backyard (it one of those rectangle backyards) and behind that is a corn field. So anyway at night when every light is turned off my room is pith black (which scares me a lot) and I am afraid something is going to climb up my balcony or someone is going to break in. Also it is hard to wake my mom up but she a light sleeper and so is my brother. I'm a heavy sleeper and cant wake me up. I never got bullied but people make fun of me because I do sometimes crawl in bed with my mom because like everyone else i feel better with someone else in a room with me. Anyway please help me It also doesn't help that I have been terrified of the dark for soooo long. Anyway someone please help im so scared I arranged my room like 20 times figuring out how to sleep where i wont be scared. THANKS!:)
I have an inhaler because of how terrified I become when suddenly finding myself in the dark. I'm in the progress of making my Dog a service animal, because I cant stand to be alone in large houses, or buildings. I get the same unbearable pain in my chest and I can end up passing out. My eyes play tricks on me and project my fears literally in front of me.... so i literally see things in the dark, alseep or wide awake it makes no difference. I'm 22 and no one takes me seriously. At work they lock me in the walk in freezer and turn the light off from the other side. When I'm home, My room mates leave all the lights off when I come in late. there is no getting away from these ass-wholes. but some times i believe there is something truly in the darkness and thats where my sickness is. there is no getting over it iv tired.
I have always been afraid of the dark since I was a child. It didn't help that I watched too many horror films and scenes or images would re-play themselves in my head. However, I was always rational about my fear and told myself that I simply had an over-active imagination. Unfortunately I have lived in about four properties now where strange things have happened that simply cannot be explained. Again, I went through the possible rational explanations but when my flat-mates also heard or felt the same things, or a variation of these things, I knew it wasn't simply me being paranoid. I'm now living abroad in a different country to the one I was in last year and am experiencing the same things that happened in my previous flat. I try to be as logical as possible but I grow more and more anxious and find it very difficult to get a good night's sleep in the dark. I'm fortunate enough that the street lights come through the bedroom window and my boyfriend is with me, but even then, only last night something made an almighty crash in our flat and woke us both up. I assumed it was simply something that had dropped, but when I looked in the morning, nothing was out of place. Our neighbour below also complained once that we need to stop moving around furniture late at night. Errrr, yep, not us. Possibly he may have confused us with another neighbour, but if I add to this the other strange experiences here, something doesn't add up. Considering I had been away for two months and nothing strange happened then, everything points towards where I am living. Sleep paralysis is also probably my biggest fear. Luckily I now recognise what it is and the last few times I have been able to wake myself up. It's all very sickening and I can't believe it is happening for the second year in a row! I think the worst part was when I felt something nudging me in the back when I was in the flat by myself one night. Up until that point, I was always concerned about strange happenings but never really felt threatened. However, physical touch is a big no no for me! I keep hearing a strange whistling at night also, sometimes faint, but sometimes very loud as if it is just outside the window. I'm glad to see I am not alone with my fears because as an adult, lots of people can be very dismissive and closed-minded about these things if they haven't experienced them themselves. The irony is that as soon as I convince myself that there is nothing to worry about (after a quiet spell) something happens again.
hi hellen intristing story ... i believe u thou... me &my boyfriend had a fight and he switched off the light f#*&^@#$ i almost lost it as i heard someone say clarissa my name.... yes maybe its my own mind.... i hope so add me on fb claeissa muller the daek hair blue eyes girl....
I'm 19 years old and have such a fear of being alone in the dark. I can handle it if it's pitch black and a friend stays over but if I'm all by myself I can't do it. When I fall asleep I actually sleep well, it's just the getting to sleep part that is hard for me. I was never really afraid of the dark when I was a child, it kind of happened later for me like when I was probably in middle school. Don't know why I have this "problem" but it's just very inconvenient and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it
I'm twenty-one years old and my whole life I have been scared of the dark. Ever since I was four, my mom always watched scary movies/shows and let us kids watch. I feel like I could have easily walked away from the television because of it being scary and all but somehow I was drawn to it. My brother, being two years older than me, played a lot of scary video games rated M as well. You would think after all these years someone would be use to watching that kind of stuff but in reality, I feel more messed up then ever. I slept by my mom in the same bed until I was eleven years old, for many years I had nightmares and kicked, punched-- constantly fought in my sleep but I no longer have that problem. The worst thing for me is imagining waking up, or turning around to someone standing really close with bulging eyes staring directly at me or someone running straight at me. When I leave a dark room and I'm about to close my bedroom door my heart beats fast and my adrenaline sky rockets within the last few second of locking the door thinking someone will burst through when it's ajar. I've always have had an overactive imagination. Keeping a lamp on and falling asleep while watching tv on low volume ceases my anxiety. I am really hoping I can get over this fear soon because I'm going to be a mom in a few more months. I have to grow up and be the brave adult for my child.
Thank you for describing your fears. I sincerely feel for you, but your description of your fears just gave me a sleepless night. I won't turn off my bedroom light tonight.