“When I was a little kid, I was really scared of the dark. But then I came to understand, dark just means the absence of photons in the visible wavelength–400 to 700 nanometers. Then I thought, well, it’s really silly to be afraid of a lack of photons. Then I wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore after that.”

Elon Musk


Are you afraid of dark ? When the light goes out, some people experience the panic attack and pathological fear of the darkness. It is something that is beyond any kind of rational approach because it is deep under the surface of human psychology. How is possible that some human being develop such a level of phobia from darkness while others don’t have any issue at all?

The word itself has an origin in Greek language and it means literally the fear from night ( nyktos:night, phobos:fear), something that is bothering about 10% of global population. When the dark falls, the majority of humans are happy about coming relaxing time while the minority of them are facing with the worst period – the rise of fear and all anxiety it brings with.  The nyctophobia is an extreme fear of darkness that must be addressed through the severe psychological support and treatment. The reason for this phobia to be fed is lack of attention of parents in the early years of children, to chase out the fears accumulated in kids and not to give them reasons to keep believing in night monsters. I remember how much I wanted to sleep with mom and dad, when I was 2-year-old girl. Somehow, I was convinced that some beasts are in my bedroom and they are waiting to come to me, when the light is turned off. Unfortunately or luckily, my parents have been not interested in such theories and they didn’t have any understanding for my settings. They advised me to keep being rational because my animals love me even more if I don’t have some baby fears. Nevertheless, I accepted that way and I am so happy I did. In many years after, I learnt that darkness is within people and that real demons arena outside but inside.

Back in past of the human civilisation, the fear of night has been something acceptable due to the ultimate survival race.  The ancestors haven’t had the advantages as we do now so they had to give their best to overcome the night challenges in the cruel environment. The bedtime stories and urban legends that are still present in our cultures are just a proof that we are naturally skilled or taught to be careful in the absence of light and that is completely ok. The darkness is always related to the unseen troubles and potential risks but this is something we all adapt to our modern life and it is the part of our daily life , to deal with night, the best way we can. This is so called healthy level of fear at nighttime.  The children successfully go from one stage into another, learning on the road that night is not carefree but it is also not evil, if we learn rules to play. Some kids don’t do that on time and they turned into adults with nyctophobia, that is causing a serous problem for mental health and ordinary life flow.

The main problem for nyctophobia to be cured is absence of right diagnosis. Many people think they don’t have it even if they reach the highest level of this phobia.  The psychosomatic symptoms are the following: shaking, trembling or even tingling; upset stomach and trouble with breathing that causes increased heart rate; sweating followed with cold or hot flashes. The people hit by those body reactions think they need to escape because they are out of control. For them, night is like another dimension, the completely different world.

There are methods for dealing with nyctophobia before it is not too late and the person needs to be given real medical help during cognitive therapy or medication. At the beginning, the victim of the phobia needs to recognise the all possible reason for fear from darkness. If he or she is convinced that darkness is peaceful and that person could feel  safe, then the nyctophobia is caught at the first phase. The more aggressive the panic level of fear is, the more difficult is a solution and outcome. The psychologist usually suggest that people with this kind of phobia need to have some pet as support so they can project the fear away, if they imagine that their beloved pets are also in the darkness and protect them. When it is really progressed nyctophobia, the therapists assist  more with exposure or cognitive therapy. The cognitive therapy is a severe treatment and it is a deep project of replacing bad associations in mind with the good one, related to darkness. If the person doesn’t show the success in CBT, then doctors prescribe drugs and hope this will keep targeted people, at least, not exhausted and eventually physical sick, during the numerous insomnia nights.

My friend Dylan has a serious stage of nyctophobia and his life is a mess. I don’t recognise him and I don’t have idea how to help the person I knew sometime as the strongest one in mental way. It started suddenly in Dylan´s mind….after loosing job and family, he reached for alcoholic formulas and ended up in the dark corner, seeing mythological creatures and fiercely demons that came to get him. When he contacted me, it was too late but at least, he asked for help and now he is in clinic, trying to deal not only with nyctophobia but with real shadow behind it, his dissociative identity  disorder, that has been discovered after. He was trying to help himself and he projected the another personality, his super guardian. Now, Dylan has another one, Felix, who is a real problem. Not only when night is there, but during the day too. Dylan has never be aggressive and Felix is everything but not peaceful. The protector is now a sadist. Those things may happen when the person is too focused on his/her own being and fears that doesn’t know how to make a borderline between worlds, personalities and real and imagined time.

The nyctophobia is, like all others phobia, curable but it must be recognised as such and treated as deviation, in some logical time frame. If you have some signs of it, please do ask for help and never be ashamed of fears that you have and recognise as yours. Everything could be solved but it must be addressed. The extreme fear from darkness is something you can overcome and obtain the feeling of safety when the light is not there. It is all happening in our own minds and perspectives, project it positive. You can do it, with or without light.




  1. Sarah’s enlightening and allusive article induced me to ponder the probability that nyctophobia is present in all non-human diurnal creatures, as scientific research reveals that some diurnal wild animals have to retain some level of vigilance at night, due to nocturnal predators being active (i.e. depending on the respective ecosystem).

    Research on various species (e.g. dogs) demonstrates that nyctophobia exists in a certain percentage of wild fauna with diurnal lifestyles. Most frequently, dogs experience separation anxiety and fear around new people, but many dogs are afraid of the dark, as well: even though most dogs can see just fine in the dark, they can feel uneasy in darkened places.

    Reaching back to the original single cell organisms on Earth, some 3.5 billion years ago, environments have conditioned living entities, but not until c. 600 million years ago did the nervous system emerge: this is the central network that feeds sensory data to the brain, which interprets the data according to the psyche of the individual (i.e. organisms with brains); although, organisms without a brain (e.g. jellyfish and sea sponges) react to environmental conditions in a similar manner for reasons of self-preservation.

    Specific data from the senses (e.g. smell, sight and auditory) could be reacting with certain DNA traits within the person suffering from nyctophobia that first emerged inside of the womb: both the senses and brain develop in this perfect environment, but extraneous factors react with the genetic pool (e.g. food the mother eats while pregnant, dissonance from the human world heard inside the womb, temperature and radiation from sunlight).

    I would say that it is not just a psychological issue, but one that requires biochemical research, as well (i.e. alongside continued molecular microbiology research). Nyctophobia is not actually a fear of the dark, but a phobia of not knowing. This is why blind people (i.e. blind at birth) can experience something akin to nyctophobia.


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About Sarahowlgirl1982

I am a master of Political Sciences, with special focus on Security Studies, Islamic Counter Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. I enjoy discovering and commenting things which are " in the air" but still not spoken.I also do like science writing and planing to move myself into the pure science journalism !