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Nyctophobia (from Greek νυξ nic-to-pho-bi-a: "night" and phobia, also called scotophobia, from σκότος - "darkness", lygophobia, from lyge - "twilight", or achluophobia or noctiphobia) is a pathological fear of the dark. Its symptoms include breathlessness, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, feeling sick, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly or sensation of detachment from reality and death. Normally, since humans are not nocturnal by nature, humans are usually a bit more cautious or alert than in the day, since the dark is a vastly different environment. Nyctophobia produces symptoms beyond the normal instinctive parameters.

Nyctophobia is most often associated with children.


Despite its pervasive nature, there has been a lack of etiological research on the subject. The fear of darkness (nyctophobia) is a psychologically-impacted feeling of being disposed from comfort to a fear-evoking state. The fear of darkness or night has several non-clinical terminologies--lygophobia, scotophobia and achluophobia. Nyctophobia is a phobia generally related to children but, according to J. Adrian Williams’ article titled, Indirect Hypnotic Therapy of Nyctophobia: A Case Report, many clinics with pediatric patients have a great chance of having adults who have nyctophobia. The same article states that “the phobia has been known to be extremely disruptive to adult patients and… incapacitating”[1].

File:Ménade relieve romano (Museo del Prado) 01.jpg

Ménade Relieve Romano (Museo del Prado)


Sufferers have an abnormal and persistent dread of the dark and experience anxiety even though they may rationally understand that the dark does not pose such a great threat. Treatment options are typical for any of specific phobias.

Psychotherapy is one way to treat nyctophobia. Other methods of treating nyctophobia, and other phobias, include desensitization and exposure to the panic-stimulant. A panic-stimulant is anything that reminds a person of what they have a fear of and causes them to then exhibit the phobic response(s) that contributes to the emotional, psychological and physiological reactions that later follow during a phobic reaction.

Systematic desensitization/ In vivo desensitization[]

Desensitization is one approach used to cure many phobic conditions such as nyctophobia. One of the given definitions from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary for desensitizing is, “to make emotionally insensitive or callous; specifically: to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it.”

Desensitization is a method used to treat people with self injurious behaviors, noise phobia, and injection phobia-- also those with handwriting anxieties, agoraphobia, and driving phobia. Systematic desensitization, a common treatment procedure for treating phobias, is “likely to be well suited to treatment of cases where anxiety inhibits self protective responding.” Limitations to the procedure are found when “there are behavioral skill deficits in the subject’s response demesne” [2] There are different experimental ways for which the desensitization of something can be conducted. In-vivo desensitization is one method of treating nyctophobia. It is usually the next treatment approach therapists and clinicians resort to when imaginal-stimuli does not work on a patient.

Unlike the imaginal-stimuli approach, the in-vivo desensitization treatment does not cause the arousal of emotional, psychological and physiological responses as that experienced in the actual situation. The in-vivo desensitization approach gives the patient an experience of reality; with that objectivity, the procedure does not elicit similar emotional responses to the real experience. The in-vivo desensitization treatment is recommended for treatment of nyctophobia when: -

  1. The client is unable either to imagine vividly the scenes described to him by the therapist or to hold the image constant for the duration of at least 30 seconds.
  2. The fear evoking stimuli are non-visual (e.g., auditory).
  3. The scenes can be easily found or reproduced in a real life.
  4. The in-vivo exposures can be arranged in such a hierarchy that the client is not unduly intimidated in the first few situations (Kipper 25).

See also[]


  1. Mikulas, William L. "Behavioral Bibliotherapy and Games for Treating Fear of the Dark." Child & Family Behavior Therapy 7.3 (1985): 1-7.
  2. Newman, Alexander and Brand, Eulalee. Coping Response Training Versus In Vivo Desensitization in Fear Reduction. Vol. 4, New York: Cognitive Therapy and Research

External links[]

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