Parents can distract their children from fearful thoughts and help them focus by presenting them with happier topics. Tamar Chansky, psychologist and author of Free Your Kids from Anxiety, suggests distracting your child with bedtime stories that make overcoming a fear of the dark a collaborative process. A study found that children who repeatedly heard the story of a boy who overcame his fear of the dark showed a similar reduction in fear and did not require parental intervention in the middle of the night. Bersin says things like blankets or soft toys are helpful in this regard. She explains that going to bed is like a frightening loss in which the child loses its protection and security. These devices can reduce the sense of loss.
A regular sleep routine is also helpful for people who are afraid of the dark. Practices such as bathing or mindful breathing can be beneficial for adults and children alike, and a predictable bedtime routine can help a person prepare for sleep, says Dr. Marie Kurahashi, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Stanford School of Medicine.
Don’t think of the dark as a scary thing: When a person changes the way they think about the dark, the fear of the dark may decrease. For children, this approach can take the form of engaging in fun activities after lights out, such as playing with glow sticks before bed or humming a fun story.
For people of all ages, it is also important to creatively manage the amount of light in the room through dimmer switches or hallway lighting. Stephen Whiteside, MD, director of the Pediatric Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, says a night light can be helpful for adults and children, but don’t leave too many lights on all night because it’s important to practice being in the dark. Turning on more lights is likely to perpetuate the problem.
Bersin advised that white noise is useful for masking sounds that may be frightening during the night. Soft music is also a good option. (White noise refers to selected sounds with a uniform frequency and power that are played in the work or rest environment to help a person feel relaxed and focused).
Another point is that we should all minimize screen use before bed to avoid blue light which can be irritating. “Stay away from screens at least two hours before bed,” Kurahashi suggested.
Adults and children should also minimize scary content, especially in the hours before bedtime.
Several types of therapy can help people with a severe fear of the dark, including:
1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to learn to change a person’s response to fear of the dark
2. Exposure therapy means gradual exposure to a fearful situation. In the exposure therapy approach to treating fear of the dark, practitioners rate their patients and order a list of situations they fear, and then expose patients to each one until they are no longer afraid. For example, if patients sleep with a light on, they may be asked to get a light that is dimmed or has a switch that can be dimmed.
3. Hypnotherapy that helps a person rethink their fear of the dark and the anxiety that comes with it. Hypnotherapy involves guided relaxation exercises while the mind is in a relaxed state.
4. Psychotherapy or talk therapy to help you understand your fears and manage them
5. Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation to help control anxiety when in the dark.
What are the effects of fear of the dark?
Dark phobia is often associated with insomnia. People who have trouble sleeping may have a fear of the dark, and people who are afraid of the dark often have trouble sleeping. They may experience severe anxiety when the lights go out or even when they close their eyes.
To avoid the dark, people with nyctophobia may try to sleep with the light on. But sleeping with the light on can make restful sleep more difficult. Lack of sleep can cause excessive fatigue. Being tired during the day can make it difficult to stay on task. If left untreated, nyctophobia can cause problems in relationships, especially if a person avoids going out of the house during dark hours due to his fears.
In children, sleep problems disrupt their development and can lead to behavioral or learning problems.
What is the prognosis of people with nyctophobia?
Most people with nyctophobia get better with treatment. But the prognosis depends on the severity of the phobia. People with severe nyctophobia and other anxiety disorders may need several types of treatment to improve their condition. In some cases, a person may need long-term treatment.