What is Nyctophobia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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Nyctophobia is an intense, irrational fear of darkness; the term “scotophobia” is also used to describe this condition. While many people are afraid of the dark, a nyctophobic has a fear which is so intense that it can cause a variety of physical symptoms in addition to general anxiety and stress. This condition can be both frustrating and crippling without being treated. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options for nyctophobia, ranging from hypnosis to talk therapy, and there is no reason to live in fear of the dark.

Being afraid of darkness is nothing to be ashamed of; humans have poor night vision, and it is certainly understandable to be afraid of that which one cannot see. It is also common sense, in some cases, as learning to avoid the dark can help people avoid potentially scary situations in urban environments. However, people who experience nyctophobia are so afraid of the dark that they can become almost paralyzed by their fear, which can be very dangerous in addition to being very emotionally stressful.


Studies of nyctophobia suggest that the condition tends to emerge around the age of two, suggesting that fear of darkness is not necessarily innate in humans. A variety of things can trigger nyctophobia, ranging from intense nightmares which seem even more traumatizing when the victim wakes up in darkness to child neglect. While many children are afraid of the dark (and monsters under the bed), a child with nyctophobia manifests intense fear which lives on until adulthood.

Someone with nyctophobia experiences intense fear and anxiety around the idea of being alone in the dark. He or she may feel nauseous, start sweating or shaking, or even vomit because the fear is so intense. As often happens when we are afraid, a nyctophobic may also start to lose his or her grip on reality, spooking at strange shapes in the dark and being unable to cope with situations which are normally not frightening.

One of the most obvious ways to deal with nyctophobia is to install a night light, but this only works at home. When nyctophobia is extreme, it is a good idea to seek treatment, so that the patient will be able to cope with dark situations outside the home and later in life. Such treatment can focus on desensitization, exposing the patient slowly to darkened conditions to take the fear away, and it can also involve breathing exercises, hypnosis, talk therapy, medication, and other techniques. Someone who has a history of nyctophobia may also want to mention it before undergoing MRIs and other medical tests which involve being in dark environments.


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