Why many adults are still afraid of the dark

People who have trouble sleeping at night are often scared of the dark too. This is the suggestion of new research presented at SLEEP 2012, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston, US, which showed almost half of students who fail to gain enough shut-eye also admit heightened fears when the lights go out.

Taryn Moss of the Ryerson University Sleep and Depression Lab explained poor sleepers are more startled in the dark than those who have little difficulty snoozing.

It was demonstrated that this latter group become more accustomed to bursts of noise over time, while the former are more likely to anticipate the sounds.

Ms Moss stated: "As treatment providers, we assume that poor sleepers become tense when the lights go out because they associate the bed with being unable to sleep."

She added the findings present the question of just how many people are suffering from unknown and untreated phobias of the dark.

Elaine Iljon Foreman, a Chartered Psychologist, comments:

"The results of this study are from a small group of 93 college men and women attending Ryerson University, in Canada. Researchers found that more poor sleepers than good sleepers confessed a fear of the dark.

"A recent UK survey of 2000 adults by Go Glow reported around four out of ten of us (that's nearly 20 million British adults) are frightened when walking around the house with the lights off. In that study, people said that watching a scary movie, being home alone and hearing strange noises in the middle of the night are the biggest causes of the irrational fear. The study found that 10 per cent said they are so scared of the dark they wouldn't even get up for the toilet once all the lights are out, while one fifth chose to leave a bedside or landing light on at night time so that they could see if they should wake up. The biggest worry for those scared of the dark was that they couldn’t see anything, while 45 per cent said they were scared of anything unexpected happening.

"The good news is that psychological therapy can help enable both children and adults to manage and even overcome their fear."