Ask SleepBetter: I’m Afraid of the Dark

Have you wondered about something related to sleep, but just can’t find the answer?  Lots of people do, and that’s why we created Ask SleepBetter.  You can ask your own question on the SleepBetter Facebook Page, or by using our Ask SleepBetter contact form.  We will try to answer as many questions as possible, but we are not able to answer queries about physical issues or medicinal issues.  Those should be addressed face-to-face with a physician.

Today’s question is related to the fear of things that go bump in the night:

I’m a relatively good sleeper, but my issue is always getting to sleep. I’m scared of the dark, which feels like it’s a bit childish since I’m 16. However, I’ll be falling asleep and then I’ll suddenly be terrified that there’s something in my room and get the sensation of being watched, and I can take ages to calm down again.  Some nights it gets really bad, and I have to turn on a light and repeat the sleepytime process. On the worst nights, I just leave my lamp on. How should I deal with this?

-Emma (via email)

You might be surprised to know that fear of the dark is not that unusual, not only for children but also adults.  As part of a 2012 study conducted at the Ryerson University Sleep & Depression Lab in Toronto, researchers found out that nearly half of their subjects (who were all college students) were afraid of the dark.  Not surprisingly, all of those who were afraid of the dark were also poor sleepers.  The study suggested that many people with insomnia are simply afraid of the dark.  Many of them may not even be aware that the fear is what’s keeping them from sleeping.

The principal researcher of the study gave a number of suggestions to overcome the fear.  An article on EmaxHealth listed those suggestions:

  • Practice defeating your fear by going into dark rooms during the day.
  • Gradually work your way to being in a completely dark room by yourself for increasingly longer periods of time.
  • If you sleep alone, having someone (or a pet) by your side can relieve your anxiety.

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