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Knowledge Base » Mental Health » What is Nyctophobia?

What is Nyctophobia?

Last updated on 3rd May 2023

Nyctophobia is an extreme and overwhelming fear of the dark and, in many cases, a fear of night-time. It is particularly common in children, with up to 30% of children experiencing a fear of the dark. The majority of these children grow out of this fear before they reach adolescence. However, in some cases, a fear of the dark can extend into adulthood or be so severe that it affects a person’s daily life and their mental and physical health.

We are going to look at nyctophobia in more detail, including the common causes, triggers, symptoms and treatments.

What is Nyctophobia?

Nyctophobia is an extreme, irrational and overwhelming fear of the dark, which often extends to a fear of the night. Fear of the dark doesn’t usually involve a fear of darkness itself but a fear of real, imagined or possible dangers that could be concealed by the dark.

Also known as achluophobia, someone with nyctophobia most likely experiences intense fear, anxiety or panic when confronted with darkness or at the thought of being in the dark.

A fear of the dark is particularly common in young children, with many of them growing out of their fear before adulthood. However, in some cases, instead of growing out of their fear, the symptoms of nyctophobia can worsen over time, with some people experiencing a fear of the dark throughout their life. Nyctophobia can also occur in adulthood. Although nyctophobia mainly occurs in childhood, it rarely occurs in children younger than two years old.

In many cases of children with nyctophobia, the fear manifests because of their inability to separate their fear, imagination or nightmares from reality. For example, their fear of the dark may develop because they are scared of monsters under the bed, that ghosts will appear or that someone is going to break into their house.

Someone with nyctophobia may feel fear, anxiety or panic in many different situations and places, such as:

  • At night-time.
  • In typically dark places, such as cinemas, theatres and music arenas.
  • In dark rooms or rooms with no windows, including basements or cellars.
  • In garages, sheds, workshops and storage units.
  • Underground or in a cave.
  • If they are outside after dark.
  • When going through a tunnel in a car or train.
  • In any place with an absence of natural light.
  • In any place with an absence of artificial light.

Someone with nyctophobia may have difficulties sleeping, may avoid leaving their home after dark and may experience anxiety or panic at the thought of being in the dark or the anticipation of darkness. A fear of the dark can be debilitating and can interfere with your everyday life.

Although being afraid of the dark is not uncommon, especially during childhood, someone with nyctophobia will experience fear that is irrational and disproportionate to the threat. Although many people experience fear, anxiety or feelings of discomfort in the dark, this does not necessarily mean they are experiencing a phobia.

To be classified as nyctophobia, your fear of darkness will include:

  • Feelings of intense fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
  • Fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the true risk.
  • A fear of the dark that lasts for at least six months.
  • Engaging in avoidance behaviours to prevent encounters with darkness.
  • A fear of the dark that interferes with your day-to-day life, overall well-being or sense of safety.

Nyctophobia can occur on a spectrum, with some people experiencing more severe symptoms than others. It is an individualised condition, meaning it manifests differently in different people. Some people find that their symptoms are more easily triggered than others, whereas other people are able to function normally in places and situations where they could encounter the dark.

A fear of darkness is thought to be triggered by the startle response in your brain, which is a defensive response to what we perceive to be threatening stimuli. The startle response causes your brain to release chemicals that heighten your feelings of anxiety and your perception of danger. This can create a future negative association between darkness and danger.

If you have nyctophobia, you may implement avoidance behaviours or alter your behaviour to reduce the likelihood of you encountering darkness. This could include refusing to leave the house after dark, avoiding social activities that take place in the evening or at night and avoiding places that are typically dark, such as a cinema.

Avoidance behaviours are implemented to reduce an encounter with the dark and prevent your phobia from impacting on your life. However, avoidance behaviours can actually have a paradoxical effect, meaning that instead of helping you to manage or reduce your symptoms, avoiding places or situations where you could encounter the dark can actually have the opposite effect and instead reinforce your fear and result in more severe symptoms in the future.

Avoidance behaviours can also have a negative impact on your social life, your relationships and your ability to perform everyday tasks. Someone with a phobia of the dark may also have difficulty concentrating or functioning in certain places and situations. Their phobia may also interfere with their day-to-day life.

You may find that you are consumed by thoughts of the dark or the fear that you might unexpectedly encounter darkness. This fear and anxiety can have a significant impact on your mental and emotional well-being and your behaviour. If you do encounter darkness, you are likely to experience significant fear, panic, anxiety or distress. Even if you are aware your fear is disproportionate to the danger, you will likely be unable to control your negative patterns of thought, your emotions and your behaviours.

Because people with nyctophobia often experience extreme fear and anxiety when it is dark or they turn the lights off, they frequently experience sleeping difficulties or insomnia. This can result in fatigue or exhaustion, difficulties concentrating, and lower performance at work or school and can even have a negative effect on their health, and over time can result in them developing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

Nyctophobia can be connected to and occur in conjunction with other phobias, including:

  • Somniphobia: An extreme fear of sleep.
  • Oneirophobia: An extreme fear of dreams.
  • Thanatophobia: An extreme fear of dying.
Little girl scared of the dark at bedtime

How Common is Nyctophobia?

Fear of the dark is one of the most common fears experienced by children between the ages of 6 and 12, with most children growing out of their fear by the time they reach adolescence. It is thought that up to 30% of children experience a fear of the dark at some point.

However, negative thoughts and feelings about the dark usually occur on a spectrum, which ranges from mild fear and anxiety to severe fear, panic and anxiety that can impact your day-to-day life, affect your decision-making and result in avoidance behaviours of certain places and situations. It can be difficult to determine whether someone is scared of the dark or whether they are experiencing a phobia.

Nyctophobia is a type of specific phobia, which is characterised as an enduring, overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, place or person; in this case, an extreme fear of the dark. Diagnoses of nyctophobia must therefore comply with the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias. This means that no individual statistics are available that specify how many people experience nyctophobia.

Similarly to other phobias, nyctophobia is thought to be underdiagnosed, with diagnostic rates thought to be lower than the true figures of how many people truly experience a phobia of the dark.

If you have nyctophobia, there are several reasons why your phobia may go undiagnosed, for example:

  • It is not a well-known phobia so you may not realise you are experiencing a phobia.
  • You may not realise that effective treatment is available.
  • You may not discuss your fear with others so may not realise your fear of the dark is extreme.
  • You may implement avoidance behaviours that reduce or eliminate your exposure to the dark and seem to make your phobia more manageable.
  • You may be aware that your fear is irrational and may be embarrassed and try to hide your phobia.

Who is at Risk of Nyctophobia?

Although anyone can develop nyctophobia, there are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of you developing a phobia of the dark.

These can include:

  • Having a previous negative, scary or traumatic experience involving the dark.
  • Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Having another related phobia, such as thanatophobia or somniphobia.
  • Previously or currently experiencing physical or sexual assault, abuse or violence.
  • Having a history of anxiety, depression, panic attacks or another relevant mental health disorder.
  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with nyctophobia.
  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with another phobia.
  • Being exposed to a fear of the dark during childhood or adolescence.
  • Being an innately more anxious or nervous person.
  • Experiencing a significant life stressor, having higher than usual stress levels or being in a heightened mental state (particularly if you are exposed to a fear of the dark or have a negative experience involving the dark during this time).
  • Having a substance use disorder, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  • Experiencing separation anxiety disorder (more common in children).

However, even if you have several of the above risk factors, this does not necessarily mean you will develop nyctophobia. For example, you may have PTSD and have a parent with nyctophobia and never develop a phobia of the dark, whereas someone with no risk factors may develop nyctophobia unexpectedly.

As mentioned earlier, nyctophobia is more likely to develop during childhood. The stress and fear a child experiences during a traumatic, negative or painful event can cause feelings of anxiety and fear that can reduce their ability to cope with negative thoughts and emotions which can develop into nyctophobia – even if the traumatic event didn’t occur in the dark. Compared to adults, children have a reduced ability to cope with fear and manage and understand negative thoughts and feelings. This is why children are more likely than adults to develop a phobia.

Man struggling with nyctophobia

How to Deal with Nyctophobia?

There are multiple strategies you can implement to help you deal with your phobia. Coping and calming strategies can help you to manage or reduce the symptoms of your fear of the dark. They can be implemented in conjunction with lifestyle changes to reduce the impact your phobia has on your everyday life and your well-being and reduce the likelihood of your phobia being triggered.

Some coping and calming strategies should be implemented long term, meaning you engage in them habitually on a long-term basis. These strategies aim to reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms in the long run and reduce the chance that being in the dark will result in a negative phobic response. Other strategies can be implemented short term, for example, when you are in the dark or in triggering situations. This can help you to reduce or avoid any adverse symptoms.

Some of the long- and short-term coping and calming strategies that can be implemented to help you deal with your nyctophobia are:

Desensitise yourself

Desensitisation can help you to be less triggered by the dark and can help to reduce the impact your phobia has on your everyday life. Desensitisation is most effective when it occurs gradually, as this can help you feel calm and ensure you don’t feel anxious or overwhelmed. Some ways you can desensitise yourself are by using a smaller, less powerful nightlight and spending time in low-lit areas. Gradually desensitising yourself can help you to slowly reduce your fear response to the dark.

Learn about your fear

Identifying what initially caused your fear of the dark and thinking about the initial onset of your phobia and the situation surrounding it can help you to understand your fear in more depth. This allows you to address the root cause of your fear and any negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours that are linked to it. Understanding your phobia enables you to rationalise and understand the negative thoughts that are related to it, reduce your automatic fear response and reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.

Create a fear ladder

A fear ladder can help you to analyse and understand your fear of the dark. A fear ladder enables you to identify which triggers result in more severe fear, anxiety and panic than others. When you create a fear ladder, you should organise your triggers from least severe to most severe. Because nyctophobia manifests differently in different people, every individual fear ladder will be different.

An example fear ladder is shown below:

1 = Being in complete darkness.
2 = Going to the cinema or a theatre.
3 = Going into a basement.
4 = Being in a shed or garage.
5 = Being in a dark area with a torch.
6 = Being outside at night.

Following the creation of your fear ladder, you can then confront your triggers individually, starting at the bottom of the ladder (the trigger that results in the least phobic response). This can help you to build up your tolerance of your triggers gradually and reduce your fear of the dark long term.

Join a support group

A support group is a great way to connect with other people who understand how you are feeling and have had similar experiences as you. Support groups for phobias offer emotional support, education and the opportunity to talk about your experiences and your fear without being judged. You could also learn some useful tips to help you manage your fear and reduce your symptoms.

Challenge negative thoughts and feelings

Darkness may be associated with negative thoughts or experiences, with increasing distress. You can prevent your fear from escalating by disrupting and challenging your negative thoughts and memories. Remind yourself that the dark poses no danger to you and that your fear is irrational. If you begin to experience symptoms of nyctophobia, remind yourself that the feelings will soon pass, that your fear is disproportionate and that the dark is not going to hurt you.

Avoid negative depictions or negative stories about the dark

In popular culture, horror films and scary stories are often set in the dark. TV shows or films that portray the dark negatively can validate and reinforce any negative connotations you have already associated with it. Additionally, news stories that report violent crimes occurring at night, such as sexual assault or murder, can also exacerbate your phobia and cause you to experience more severe fear and anxiety. Avoid any triggering or negative depictions of the dark to prevent your phobia from escalating.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can be beneficial in treating a variety of anxiety disorders, including phobias. Mindfulness teaches you how to focus your breathing and attention and reduces the likelihood that you will experience a panic attack if you are faced with your triggers. Mindfulness can also help you to manage stress and anxiety and explore the connection between mind and body as well as help you to manage the symptoms of your phobia.

Practise yoga or meditation 

You can manage and reduce the impact of your phobia through yoga and meditation, which are both long-term coping strategies. As you learn how to control your breathing and manage your body’s automatic reaction to the dark, you will feel more in control and calm. By practising yoga and meditation on a daily basis, you may be able to reduce the negative thoughts, feelings and reactions you may have in the future when faced with the dark and help you improve your phobia’s symptoms over time and reduce the impact it has on your life.

Practise deep breathing exercises

In both the long term and the short term, deep breathing exercises can help you overcome your phobia. Using them can effectively reduce your stress levels, relieve tension in your body, and reduce anxiety and panic. The act of deep breathing triggers your brain to relax and calm down. Practise deep breathing routinely (at least once a day) and implement the strategies you have learnt if you are faced with the dark in the future.

Use visualisation techniques

Visualisation is another short-term strategy you can use if you are faced with the dark in the future. You can alleviate your symptoms and prevent your fears from escalating if you visualise a place or memories that keep you calm or elicit positive emotions when you encounter a trigger or experience symptoms.

Implement lifestyle changes

Several lifestyle factors can exacerbate your phobia symptoms, including poor sleep schedules and high stress levels. You can reduce the impact of your phobia by implementing a successful sleep routine and reducing any stress you may be experiencing. By making these changes, you can reduce the severity of your phobia. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising more can also help you to manage your nyctophobia. Avoiding caffeine, sugar and other stimulants can reduce the chance that your heart rate and blood pressure will rise and that your phobia will worsen if you encounter a trigger.

What Triggers Nyctophobia?

There are many different possible triggers for nyctophobia, and the triggers can vary from person to person and situation to situation. Some people with a phobia of darkness report that their phobia only has one trigger, whereas other people find that it has multiple triggers.

Different people can experience different types of triggers and a different number of triggers depending on what initially caused their phobia to develop, their perception of the potential risk, the severity of their symptoms and their current mindset and mental health.

The most common triggers of nyctophobia are:

  • Being in the dark.
  • The sun setting and night-time beginning.
  • Entering winter when there are fewer hours of daylight.
  • Entering a room with no windows.
  • Travelling through a tunnel in a car, on a train or by foot.
  • Something covering your eyes and preventing you from seeing light, such as a blindfold, an eye mask or your clothes when you are getting undressed.
  • Going to a place that is usually dark, such as a cinema, theatre or nightclub.
  • Losing electricity in your home.
  • Not having easy access to a light.
  • Watching a video, TV show or film set in darkness or at night.
  • Thinking of the dark or remembering a previous experience in the dark.
  • The possibility that you could encounter the dark.
  • Not having control of the light, for example, someone else being close to the light switch or holding the torch.
  • Seeing a nocturnal animal, such as a bat or owl.
  • Seeing something you typically associate with the dark, such as UV lights.
  • Turning off a light.
  • Seeing the sun set.
  • Getting ready for bed.
Someone suffering with nyctophobia

What are the Symptoms of Nyctophobia?

The symptoms of nyctophobia can vary in their severity, frequency and manifestation. Symptoms can occur at any time, for example, if you are without natural or artificial light, if you encounter a trigger or when you think about being in the dark.

The symptoms of nyctophobia can vary from person to person and from situation to situation, depending on their different triggers, their perceived risk and threat of danger, their current mental and emotional health and well-being and any treatments they are undergoing or coping strategies they have implemented.

The symptoms of nyctophobia can range from mild to severe, with some people experiencing more severe symptoms than others. It could also be that different triggers and situations result in more severe symptoms than others, for example, you may experience worse symptoms if you are unexpectedly in the dark, compared to if you watch a film that is set at night.

For some people, the symptoms of nyctophobia are similar to the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, particularly if the symptoms they experience are severe. The symptoms of a phobia are often automatic and uncontrollable. It may feel like you are unable to control or manage your thoughts or feelings and that your phobia is taking over your body.

The symptoms of nyctophobia can be physiological (related to your body), psychological (related to your mind) and/or behavioural and can include:

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Overwhelming fear, anxiety or panic when faced with the dark, when it is night-time or when you encounter a trigger.
  • Significant sleep impairments as a result of being afraid of the dark, for example, poor sleep or insomnia.
  • Anticipatory anxiety in the lead-up to night-time or a triggering situation.
  • A fear of the dark that has lasted for at least six months.
  • An intense need to escape.
  • Feeling detached.
  • Experiencing heightened reactions to darkness, for example, panic attacks or anxiety attacks.
  • Fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the risks.
  • Being unable to control your fear, anxiety or panic even if you are aware that they are disproportionate.
  • Feeling immobilised by your fear or feeling like you are unable to move.
  • Feeling like you are not in control or are about to lose control.
  • Difficulties concentrating or functioning normally in the dark or in triggering situations.
  • Feeling defenceless or vulnerable.
  • Feeling powerless over your fear.
  • Having an impending sense of doom or feeling like you are going to die.

Physiological Symptoms:

  • Unusual or excessive sweating or clamminess.
  • Chest pain or tightness in your chest.
  • Shaking, trembling, pins and needles or a tingling sensation.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Difficulties breathing, such as shortness of breath or hyperventilating.
  • A racing heart, heart palpitations or feeling like your heart is pounding.
  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting or an upset stomach.
  • Hot or cold flashes.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Feeling confused or disorientated.
  • Feeling unusually tired.
  • Muscle tension or feeling like your muscles are stiff.
  • A dry or sticky mouth.
  • A choking sensation, difficulties swallowing or feeling like something is stuck in your throat.
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
  • Experiencing a panic attack.

Behavioural Symptoms:

  • Avoiding any social or professional events that take place in the evening or at night-time.
  • Avoiding places or situations where you could encounter the dark.
  • Needing to have a light on when it is dark or while you are sleeping.
  • Refusing to think about or talk about the dark or night-time.
  • Having the urge to run away or hide when faced with the dark.
  • Refusing to watch videos, TV shows or films set in the dark or at night.

Symptoms of Nyctophobia in Children:

Nyctophobia more commonly occurs in children compared to adults. Children often experience different symptoms than adults, particularly younger children. This could be because younger children may be less able to rationalise or understand their own thoughts and feelings, may be less able to explain to an adult what they are feeling and may be less constrained when experiencing fear, panic or anxiety.

  • Refusing to sleep alone or without a night light.
  • Crying, screaming or having a tantrum.
  • Lashing out by hitting or kicking people or objects that are close to them.
  • Trying to run away or hide.
  • Clinging to a parent, guardian or another safe person.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Showing extreme anxiety, fear or panic.

What Causes Nyctophobia?

The cause of nyctophobia can vary from person to person. Your phobia can be triggered by one clear cause or multiple factors can contribute to you developing a fear of the dark. In some cases, a person may not be able to identify the cause of their phobia, particularly if their fear of the dark developed a long time ago or their symptoms manifested slowly over time.

However, identifying the root cause of your phobia can be extremely advantageous, as it can help you to address your initial triggers and any negative patterns of thought or negative feelings that are attached to the initial onset of your phobia. This can make it easier to treat your phobia and for you to develop effective coping strategies. Being aware of the cause of your fear of the dark can make it easier for you to manage your phobia.

There are several possible causes of nyctophobia, including environmental, evolutionary, psychological or genetic causes. Some of the most common causes of nyctophobia are:

  • A negative, traumatic or scary experience involving the dark – This is the most common cause of nyctophobia and is also known as a direct learning experience or traumatic conditioning. The event that caused the traumatic conditioning may not actually have involved real danger or a real risk. However, as long as the individual experiences significant fear, distress or trauma, this can lead to the development of a phobia. Examples of potentially traumatic experiences include becoming trapped in a dark place, someone jumping out or scaring you in the dark or being attacked or abused in the dark. Following the traumatic experience, the individual may begin to have intrusive and negative thoughts or memories of the trauma and begin to avoid trauma-related triggers, for example, by avoiding places and situations where they could encounter the dark. This can cause the fear or anxiety they felt at the time of the experience to linger or worsen.
  • Evolutionary factors – There is thought to be an evolutionary basis for nyctophobia, specifically because the lack of sight means you are unable to detect who or what is close to you, making it easier for predators to hide from you or attack you. Fear is designed to promote survival, meaning in the course of human evolution, those who feared the dark and were more cautious in the dark may have been more likely to survive. Humans may have then evolved to be predisposed to a fear of the dark. In some people, this fear can become excessive and develop into a phobia.
  • Fear rumination – Fear rumination is a common cause of phobias and usually occurs following a negative or traumatic experience involving the dark or if you were exposed to frightening portrayals or told of frightening experiences in the dark. Fear rumination occurs when you engage in a repetitive negative thought process and persistently and repetitively recap a traumatic, scary, negative or painful experience in the dark. Over time, these thoughts and memories can become increasingly upsetting and intrusive and can make you remember the experience as being more negative or scary than it was in reality. Fear rumination reinforces your natural fear responses, creates additional anxiety surrounding the dark and can result in you developing nyctophobia.
  • A learned phobia – A phobia can develop because of an observational learning experience, meaning you observed a fear of the dark in another person, and you then learnt to fear it yourself or to associate it with fear or danger. You are more likely to learn a phobia if you are exposed to it during childhood or adolescence. For example, children who grow up with a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with nyctophobia are more likely to develop the condition themselves. However, a learned phobia can also develop during adulthood.
  • Genetics – It is thought that phobias, similarly to other mental health conditions, may have a genetic basis. Research studies have shown that if you have a close relative with a phobia, you are three times more likely to develop the same phobia. Twin studies have also shown that if one twin has a phobia, the other twin has between a 30% and 44% chance of developing the same phobia. This suggests that there could be a genetic basis for phobias, including nyctophobia.
  • Negative depictions of the dark – Exposure to negative portrayals of the dark could result in a phobia, particularly if the exposure occurred during childhood or during a vulnerable or stressful time in your life. In films and TV shows, darkness is often used to portray something that is spooky, scary or dangerous. It is also frequently associated with the spooky season of Halloween and even child-friendly films and cartoons will set scary scenes in the dark. Exposure to these negative portrayals can cause someone to view the dark as being dangerous and result in them being afraid that something bad could happen to them in the dark. This can then result in them developing a phobia.
  • An informational learning experience – Being exposed to information about the dark that frightens you or creates feelings of anxiety can result in you developing fear or anxiety surrounding the dark which can then develop into nyctophobia. For example, learning facts about the number of violent crimes that take place at night or the number of night-time burglaries that have occurred in your local area can cause you to feel afraid of night-time and the dark in case something bad happens to you.
  • Experiencing significant stress – Significant, long-term stress can result in a disproportionate fear response or an inability to manage intense situations. This can make it more likely that you will develop a phobia, such as nyctophobia, particularly if you have a negative experience with the dark or are exposed to the fear of darkness while experiencing higher levels of stress. A stressful or distressing event, such as a death, can also trigger a phobia, as someone may be less able to manage their emotions and thought processes when experiencing grief, and this can result in a disproportionate fear response.

How is Nyctophobia Diagnosed?

As mentioned earlier, many phobias are thought to be considerably underdiagnosed. This is because many people do not realise that their fear is severe enough to qualify as a phobia. If you are unsure whether your fear is severe enough to qualify as a phobia, consider whether your fear of the dark includes:

  • Fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the actual risks.
  • Fear that impacts your ability to function in your everyday life or in certain situations.
  • Thoughts and feelings surrounding the dark that negatively impact your quality of life, your mental health or your well-being.
  • Symptoms that occur when faced with your triggers or when thinking about being in the dark.
  • Fear or anxiety that results in avoidance behaviours.

If you think you, or your child, may be experiencing nyctophobia, or you are still unsure, your first step will be to visit your GP. Your GP will look at your symptoms in more detail and then likely refer you to a psychologist or phobia specialist. To establish whether you are experiencing a true phobia, both your GP and the psychologist will ask you some questions regarding:

  • The symptoms you experience, including what your symptoms are, how frequently they occur and how severe they are.
  • The initial onset of your fear, including when your symptoms first began and what initially triggered your fear of the dark.
  • Your medical history, including whether you are currently or have previously had any anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias or other mental health conditions, such as PTSD.
  • Any medication or supplements you take (to ensure that your symptoms cannot be attributed to another source).
  • Whether you have a family history of phobias.
  • How much your fear interferes with your day-to-day life, your well-being and your behaviour.

The psychologist will also conduct a phobia questionnaire to establish more information. As nyctophobia is a type of specific phobia, when making a diagnosis, the psychologist will compare your symptoms to the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias.

To achieve a diagnosis, your symptoms will need to correspond with the seven key criteria set out for specific phobias, as listed below:

1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. It can occur either when the individual is in the dark or when they are not.
2. Exposure to darkness or another trigger leads to an immediate anxiety response in the majority of situations.
3. The fear is excessive and disproportionate to the threat, and this is recognised by the individual.
4. The individual avoids places or situations where they could be exposed to the dark. If they are exposed to darkness, the individual will experience extreme fear, anxiety or distress.
5. The anticipation of encountering darkness and the avoidance behaviours associated with avoiding darkness can have a significant impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.
6. The fear has lasted for a minimum of six months.
7. The phobia is not associated with another disorder or mental health condition.

If your symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria above, you will receive a diagnosis of nyctophobia. You may then be offered treatment, depending on the severity of your phobia.

Someone with nyctophobia having therapy

How is Nyctophobia Treated?

Once you have received a diagnosis of nyctophobia, you may then be offered treatment. There are several effective treatment options that are commonly used to treat phobias, including nyctophobia. However, not all people who have a phobia require formal treatment. If their symptoms are mild, don’t impact their daily life or well-being or they have already implemented successful coping strategies, treatment may not be required (although that could change in the future).

On the other hand, if your fear is triggered frequently (for example, every week), your fear results in avoidance behaviours or your fear impacts your daily life or changes your behaviour, treatment will likely be recommended. Always consult your GP or psychologist before deciding whether to pursue treatment.

Because multiple treatment options are available, your psychologist will create a personalised treatment plan that is designed to effectively treat the root cause of your phobia, your symptoms and any negative thought patterns, feelings and behaviours that are connected to your phobia.

Your treatment plan will be based on several factors, such as:

  • The severity of your symptoms.
  • The frequency of your symptoms.
  • The root cause of your phobia.
  • How significantly your phobia impacts your life.
  • Your overall health and well-being, including your mental health.

Nyctophobia is a highly treatable phobia, with the treatment success rate being as high as 90%.

The most common treatment options for nyctophobia are:

Exposure Therapy:

Exposure therapy, also known as systematic desensitisation, involves gradually exposing you to the dark in a safe, calm and controlled environment, with the aim that you will eventually become desensitised to it and it will no longer trigger negative feelings, such as fear, anxiety or panic.

Exposure therapy will involve both visualising the fear and experiencing your triggers in real life. Initially, you will be exposed to triggers that create the least amount of anxiety, such as talking about the dark or looking at a picture of the dark. Then, once you are comfortable with this level of exposure, you can move on to the next trigger, for example, being in a room with low levels of light while holding a torch. With each exposure, you should experience progressively lower anxiety. You will gradually build up to the most anxiety-provoking situations, with the aim of being able to be in the dark without experiencing a negative response.

By creating realistic thoughts and beliefs surrounding the dark, unlearning negative associations and patterns of thought, decreasing negative reactions and feelings to the dark long term, and learning relaxation techniques and coping and calming strategies, exposure therapy can help you overcome your phobia.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a popular type of psychotherapy known as talk therapy. It aims to change destructive thought patterns and teach you how to change your physiological, psychological and behavioural responses to the dark. CBT helps you to identify and study the underlying cause or causes of your fear and any existing negative thought patterns.

Your negative thoughts about the dark will be deconstructed into smaller fragments, which will then be addressed individually. Your negative feelings and behaviours connected to your fear can be eliminated or reduced by this method, thereby reducing your psychological and physiological responses to them.

CBT sessions can be conducted individually or as part of a group with other people who experience phobias.

During your sessions, you will:

  • Discuss your triggers and symptoms.
  • Explore what caused your fear of the dark.
  • Learn how to recognise your negative thoughts and change the way you are thinking.
  • Learn coping strategies and calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques and coping statements.

Clinical Hypnotherapy:

Hypnotherapy is designed to help you understand and rethink your fear of the dark and the fear and anxiety it causes. It teaches you how to overcome any negative thoughts and feelings about the dark. A combination of guided relaxation techniques and focused attention will be used to help change your negative perception of the dark.

You will be placed into a deeply relaxed state while you discuss your fear. The hypnotherapist will help you to identify any negative thought patterns, memories, feelings or behaviours that may be contributing to your phobia. You will also learn calming strategies to help you reduce and manage your symptoms more effectively.


Medication is not usually used to treat phobias but may be prescribed to temporarily treat your anxiety. You may also be offered medication to treat your sleeping difficulties and promote better sleeping patterns, particularly if you are experiencing insomnia or exhaustion as a result of your fear of the dark.

understanding phobias online course

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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