Insomnia Or Phobia?  Fear Of Dark May Diminish Sleep
June 11, 2012

Insomnia Or Phobia? Fear Of Dark May Diminish Sleep

Lee Rannals for

Have you not been sleeping well lately? According to research, maybe you should try getting yourself a nightlight.

Researchers have found that some people who experience insomnia could actually be treated for a phobia of the dark.

The team used Toronto college students for the study, and found that nearly half of the students who experienced sleep disturbances also reported having a phobia of the dark.

They confirmed this by measuring blink response to sudden noise bursts in light and dark surroundings.

During the study, the good sleepers became accustomed to the noise bursts, but the poor sleepers grew more anxious when the lights were down.

"The poor sleepers were more easily startled in the dark compared with the good sleepers," Taryn Moss, the study's lead author, said in a press release.

"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. Now we're wondering how many people actually have an active and untreated phobia."

Insomnia affects about 30 percent of adults within a given year, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Up to 15 percent of the insomnia patients have chronic insomnia.

Colleen Carney, PhD, the principal investigator, decided to focus on fear of the dark for a study on insomnia patients after hearing many people with the infliction sleep with a light or TV on.

For the study, the team asked 93 men and women with an average age of 22 to complete a questionnaire about sleep habits. They then assigned them to a poor-sleeper group or good-sleeper group.

The team found that 42 of the sleepers reported to be in the poor sleeper group, while 51 were in the good sleeper group.

Just about one-quarter of the good sleeper group had reported that they were afraid of the dark, according to the study.

Carney said for those who experience insomnia due to fear of the dark should work on the phobia itself.

"We may need to add treatment components for these patients and adapt existing treatment components in light of the phobia," Carney said. "A lot more research is needed, but we believe we have stumbled across an unmet treatment need for some poor sleepers."

Carney also said that phobias often respond very quickly to treatment with exposure therapy.

The study from Ryerson University Sleep & Depression Lab was presented on Monday at SLEEP 2012, which is the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston.