Afraid of the Dark? Not Just for Kids
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.
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