Symptoms and Treatment of Nyctophobia (Fear of the Dark)

Girl asleep in bed lit only by night light.

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While being afraid of the dark may be a part of normal development in young children, that is not the case for older children and adults. Nyctophobia is an age-inappropriate fear of darkness that can prompt someone to limit their activities, avoid certain situations, and experience anxiety in anticipation of there being no light.

It is when the concern crosses over from being an inborn protective mechanism to disrupting everyday life that it is designated a phobia.


Nyctophobia, also referred to as scotophobia, achluophobia, and lygophobia, may be evolutionary in nature, as many predators hunt at night. The fear may not be related to darkness itself but unknown dangers hidden in the darkness (which is why horror and suspense movies often use darkness as a way to scare viewers).

Lack of security and confidence can play into this as well, especially if you tend to be afraid of the dark more often while alone.

Some psychoanalytic writers believe that fear of the dark may be related to separation anxiety from a primary attachment figure, a phenomenon that is detailed further in a 2014 analysis on attachment and fear arousal published in the journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of nyctophobia vary from person to person and according to the severity of a particular case. In general, symptoms of nyctophobia include:

  • Becoming nervous in any darkened environment
  • Being reluctant to go out at night
  • Experiencing physiological symptoms, including an increased heart rate, sweating, visible shaking, and even feeling ill when forced to spend time in the dark
  • Need to sleep with a night light

Symptoms of more severe cases of nyctophobia include:

  • Attempting to run away from dark rooms
  • Becoming angry or defensive if anyone tries to encourage you to spend time in the dark
  • Compulsively staying indoors at night

Nyctophobia has some diagnostic criteria that are common to all phobias, which distinguishes them from simple fears.

Treatment for Nyctophobia

The goal of therapy is to challenge fearful beliefs about the dark and reduce the severity of symptoms one experiences due to that fear.

The rate of successful treatment for specific phobias like nyctophobia is about 90%. Many techniques for nyctophobia treatment are drawn from the cognitive-behavioral school of therapy.

The treatment plan your therapist suggests for you or your child may include:

  • Exposure to the dark in small, incremental, non-threatening doses in a process called desensitization (this should only be done under professional supervision)
  • One-on-one talk therapy
  • Learning relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Levos J, Zachilli TL. Nyctophobia: from imagined to realistic fears of the dark. Psi Chi J Psychol Res. 2015;20:2:102-10. doi:10.24839/2164-8204.JN20.2.102

  2. Slade A. Imagining fear: attachment, threat, and psychic experience. Psychoanal Dialogues. 2014;24(3):253-266. doi:10.1080/10481885.2014.911608

  3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders5th edition. Washington DC; 2013.​​

  4. Thng CEW, Lim-Ashworth NSJ, Poh BZQ, Lim CG. Recent developments in the intervention of specific phobia among adults: a rapid review. F1000Res. 2020;9:F1000. doi:10.12688/f1000research.20082.1

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.