Nyctophobia - 101 Guide For Parents
What is nyctophobia? What are the types of it? When does it start affecting people? This article covers what nyctophobia is, its causes and how to treat it.
Are your kids scared of the dark? Are they so fearful of the nighttime, and everything that happens when the sun goes down, that they stare in terror at shadows in their room, or scream in fear at harmless noises, like a tree branch scraping against the window, or an owl hooting in the night sky? If that is the case, they might be suffering from nyctophobia – the fear of the dark.
Learning more about nyctophobia will help your child overcome this extreme fear of the darkness. Nyctophobia is a common phobia, and it’s never too early to learn more about it. Read on to learn more about what it is, how to help your child if they have this phobia and how to help them cope with the darkness and participate in nighttime activities.
What are the main causes of nyctophobia?
As we have said, nyctophobia is the fear of darkness. It can be caused by a traumatic experience with darkness at an early age, such as being locked alone in a closet or room without any light. Because such experiences are frightening and scary, this irrational fear can also become a learned behaviour.
However, this is not everything there is to it. Here are some of the main causes.
Past experience & incidents
Across our country and around the world, there are many people afraid of the dark – and they are not all kids. Generally, this fear is irrational and unfounded as your chances of encountering an intruder or danger in complete darkness are slimmer than you might think. Still, sometimes this fear is stemmed from something rational. Some kids have experienced terrifying encounters of their own that have scarred them for life.
Many fear going to the dark. It may seem silly but in many cases, this fear derives from an incident or event that happened to that person. For example, the kid used to see someone walking around in the dark or they’ve heard some noises which caused them to be afraid of darkness for many years. Many kids tend to avoid the dark after hearing stories from friends or relatives that we’re just trying to be funny, but they’ve only caused damage.
Lack of security
We, and especially our kids, tend to feel safe as long as there is a light on – whether inside our house, outside our tent while camping or outside our home on the street. When we go into the unknown, when we are sleeping without the lights on and then wake up to the darkness of the night – we experience the feeling of the lack of security.
Lack of security stems from the fear of the unknown. We can’t look into the darkness and experience anything other than black. That can people shiver to the bones. It’s like they say – we don’t fear what we know is out there in the darkness, we fear what we don’t know.
Insomnia and nyctophobia are tightly wound, and it is fairly common for one to cause the other, and it works both ways. When you lie down at night, unable to get a shuteye for only a minute, your mind starts to wander. When it does, it is only a matter of time before it wanders somewhere dark – no pun intended.
Once you feel the dark thoughts creeping up on you, it’s hard to remain calm. Instead, you start imagining irrational scenarios and playing them out in your head. What also happens is you start imagining seeing and hearing things due to tiredness and sleepiness, which can only exasperate your fears – whether they’re realistic fears or irrational ones.
Teenagers and school kids are exposed to an exorbitant amount of stress. They face a daunting number of pressures in school and as they grow as individuals. Not only are they building and maintaining their personal lives, but many of them today also do extracurricular activities, both the ones they want and the ones they don’t, and that can compound the stress of daily life without providing much mental relief, resulting in sleep disturbances and specific phobias, with one of them being the one we’re talking about today.
Being afraid of the dark doesn’t only have to do with ghosts and monsters, but also your own fears and worries. The darkness triggers deep thoughts for which an individual, and especially a kid, has no answers. When they’re unable to identify or understand those fears – anxiety kicks in.
But, it works the other way around, too. Although kids aren’t anxious that often, research shows that teenagers are – quite commonly. The anxiety in teenagers usually doesn’t translate to extreme fear of the dark – but it can. And, it does, every so often.
What are the main symptoms of nyctophobia?
Peer-reviewed studies consistently find that approximately 30% of children in the UK, and the world, experience problems with fear of the darkness. Fear ranges from intense to mild – from mildly inconvenient to severely debilitating. If left untreated, it can leave our poor sleepers afraid for the rest of their life, which will inevitably affect the quality of their day to day life.
If you notice your child going to the bed with their head down, fists clenched, and you hear their short breaths – they are scared.
Breathing problems are a common problem when we are facing our fears, which is exactly why we try to calm ourselves down with deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. However, children aren’t aware of these. So, if you notice any of these – seek professional medical advice.
Shaking or trembling
One of the symptoms of the fear of the dark is shaking and/or trembling. There are many causes for this condition, but most occur in people with anxiety disorders who feel like the dark means that they’re not safe or someone is watching them. Also, kids living in countries with a cultural background that believes night creatures are out to get them also have a tendency of shaking in their boots as soon as it gets dark, so try and avoid those stories.
Sweating & dizziness
When you are faced with fear, you often start experiencing profuse sweating and dizziness. It’s because your adrenal gland kicks into high gear with a flood of stress hormones, like adrenaline.
During this time, the heart will go into overdrive, energy levels will skyrocket, and you start sweating profusely even though you’re lying perfectly still. This level of stress on your body will also cause lightheadedness and dizziness, which can be severely uncomfortable even when you’re just lying in bed.
Increased heart rate
As we just said, the body releases adrenaline when the fight-or-flight response kicks in. That increases your heart rate, which frees more oxygenated blood at the brain and lungs – providing enough energy to propel you away from danger, quickly and efficiently. However, since there’s nothing to run from – all your child is left with is a racing heart and overwhelming feelings of terror.
Chest pain comes along when you experience extreme fear – there are no two ways about it. That is why many kids avoid and fear going to bed, or they ask to sleep with the lights on. They know what’s about to happen to them when the lights go off.
They avoid sleeping, and they hide under the covers with some kind of light on. All of this will only lead to sleeplessness that will aggravate the issue, so it’s important to talk to your kids if you notice any of these symptoms.
How to treat nyctophobia?
Kids shouldn’t take sleep medicine to help them overcome their fears and fall asleep, so we’re here to talk to you about some alternative treatment options for your little one(s).
Naturally, you wouldn’t want, nor would we want you to just take us at our word, so if you are considering any of the following treatment options, we suggest you talk to a healthcare professional or mental health professional for actual medical advice.
This is child development and well-being we’re talking about, and even though we’ve informed ourselves from only high-quality sources – we are not giving any medical advice! We’re just discussing common treatments.
Talking about your problems in a constructive manner is one of the best ways to overcome everyday life problems, but it is also one of the easiest approaches to dealing with nyctophobia.
Talking to your children about their fears will certainly help them. Remaining calm and explaining to them that there is no reason to feel helpless or scared once the lights go off might lighten their burden, but it might not be enough. In some instances, you might have to schedule an appointment with a child psychologist.
In therapy, kids learn by doing. Child psychologists will help kids practice talking about whatever’s bothering them in hopes of eventually being able to answer their fears and worries in healthy ways.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In addition to breathing techniques and other coping strategies, cognitive behavioural therapy can be used to help individuals cope with a phobia of the dark.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of psychotherapy that looks at how our thoughts and fears influence what we feel and do. The aim is to reduce your fear or anxiety which helps you increase stability in your life. It is important for people with anxiety disorders to recognize that their fears are irrational, and are only thought to be real because of the intense feelings associated with them. However, in order for them to do so – they have to overcome the fear by understanding how irrational it is.
Even though it might seem that CBT’s too advanced for children – it isn’t. In fact, it is quite effective.
A slow exposure to the dark
Exposure therapy is the practice of confronting your fears by gradually exposing yourself to them. In this case, that means slow explore to the dark.
There are three main steps in the process of exposure therapy:
Before treatment begins, the individual (kid, teen, or adult) is taught relaxation techniques to help control their feelings during the process.
Next up, they build up a sense of security with gradual exposure or desensitization which usually takes place over a period of time, although that may not always be the case. Some people have shown improvements over the course of a session or two.
And, the third and final step is confronting your fear.
Visit the doctor if your child…
The fear of the dark can be quite debilitating if not managed properly, especially in childhood. As we said, visiting a physician or a psychologist is always a good option, so here’s how you’ll know it’s time to take action.
Has trouble with falling asleep
If your child has trouble falling asleep, it’s vital to schedule a check-up with a physician or mental health professional.
It’s important to address these things as they begin to happen, as that’s the only way to make sure they don’t progress into something severe. And, there are severe cases of nyctophobia – especially in children.
So, if your kid has a hard time hitting the snooze, or if they wake up in the middle of the night, only to scream in terror and run up to cuddle up beside you – it is probably time to visit the doctor’s office.
Expresses a particular fear of the dark
If your child is experiencing a fear of the dark, and they’re talking to you about it on daily basis – it’s best to get it checked out by a doctor.
Many fears are created from real experiences, and they can cause irreversible damage. If fears cause your child to be stressed, lose sleep, experience night terrors – they could permanently scar your child, causing behavioural and mental issues for them in the future.
So, it just makes sense to check in with them on a regular basis to make sure everything is okay, and to take them to the doctor if you can’t help them on your own.
Mentions a fear of ghosts, monsters or sleeping alone
The most common fear in children these days is the fear of ghosts and monsters. These are mostly just thoughts, but some kids don’t ever get over it.
If you have a child that often talks about monsters under the bed, or ghosts hiding in the closet – there are a few things you can do that may help them eventually get over it and feel safe again.
One of them is talking to them and explaining that monsters and ghosts don’t exist, and the other is allowing someone else to do the talking. In this case, a child psychologist.
Conclusion - Can I get rid of nyctophobia successfully?
Fear not – the rate of successful treatments for specific phobias like nyctophobia is around 90%. That is excellent.
As long as you act promptly, there shouldn’t be a doubt in your mind that your child will overcome this fear. In fact, most kids overcome this fear all on their own by the time they turn eight, and if they can do it alone – they can certainly do it with your and/or professional help.
FAQs about nyctophobia
Let’s wrap things up with some FAQs before the sun sets. We’d much rather you end up being the one that’s set for the night – armed with knowledge.
Yes. Even though the fear behind it is irrational - the effects it has on our mind and body are most certainly real.
There are no rules to overcoming fears, but generally speaking, most kids overcome this issue by the age of eight - all on their own.
Absolutely. In fact, the success rate is incredibly high - over 90%.
The issues usually start when we start comprehending the difference between good and bad, light and dark... So, somewhere around the age of four.
Yes. In fact, a great number of adults suffer from this phobia, in varying degrees of severity.
That's hard to say. Every child is different, so only fair to assume that treatment could take anywhere from several weeks up to a few years.