Are you afraid of the dark? While children are often scared of the night, some adults are too. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated fears and phobias. But there are ways to fix that. Below are some tips to help you (or your child) get a better night’s sleep.

Although fear of the dark is most common in children ages 3-12 (affecting nearly 3 in 4 children, according to a study), many adults are also prone to fear of the dark. An estimated 11% of adults already struggled with this fear before the pandemic, and experts say COVID-19 has worsened matters.

“A real or perceived threat causes fear. The global pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty in various aspects of our lives,” said Gifty Ampadu, a psychologist for the Montefiore Health System.

And because research shows that fear of the unknown exacerbates other worries, fears of the dark, and other phobias, it has increased exponentially.


Children and adults suffer from fear of the dark for a variety of reasons. For example, darkness hinders one’s eyesight. Not seeing very well “increases anxiety, insecurity, and tension, and this can lead to fear of the dark in any age group,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Nightmares and biological predispositions to anxiety also play a role. Krystal Lewis, a clinical psychologist and researcher with the National Institute of Mental Health, noted that people can experience fear of the dark “because of the things they see or hear, thoughts in their head (or) bad things they’ve experienced.”.” She also said that some people have “a biological predisposition to fear and anxiety that can manifest at night.”

Overcome the fear of the dark and get more sleep by helping your child overcome their fear.

Even when adults don’t experience night terrors, their children often do, leading to a lack of sleep for an already sleep-deprived nation.

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“Children have a sharp image that is great for creative expressive play and learning, but they have not fully discerned the difference between reality and fantasy (imagination), so things that run wild at night can pose as a threatening reality,” Beresin explained.

And fears of the dark are often rooted in fear of being separated from the parent, said Rachel Busman, a senior director for Cognitive & Behavioral Consultants and the former director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. The pandemic limited many opportunities for parents and children to be separated: “Children had not gone to school and other activities for a long time and therefore missed the important habit of separating from their parents,” she said.

Parents can distract themselves from anxious thoughts and help children with overactive imaginations by providing happier things to focus on.

“Children’s imaginations run wild at night, mainly because they are not much occupied or distracted and are often left alone with their thoughts. Parents (can) offer their children alternative things to focus on, such as a nice bedtime story,” suggested psychologist Ampadu.

“Choose bedtime stories that make overcoming fear of the dark a collaborative process,” suggested Tamar Chansky, a Philadelphia psychologist and author of “Freeing Your Child from Anxiety.” Indeed, Lewis noted that one study showed children repeatedly told the same story about a boy who overcame his fear of the dark, reported a decrease in similar worries and did not require as much parental intervention in the middle of the night.

Beresin added that everyone benefits from comfort items such as a blanket or cuddly doll. “Going to bed feels like a very scary loss – loss of calm, loss of protection,y,” he explained. That loss can be absorbed with a comfort item.

Consistent bedtime routines are also helpful for anyone afraid of the dark. Practices such as taking a bath or mindful breathing techniques can benefit both adults and children, said Dr. Mari Kurahashi, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford School of Medicine.

“A predictable bedtime routine … helps the (person) prepare for sleep by unwinding them before bedtime,” she said.

Mantras are also important and can help people calm themselves, Ampadu said. “Practice a mantra like, ‘My room is safe, and I’m brave.’

Stop seeing the dark as scary.

Fear of the dark can also decrease if one learns to think differently about darkness.

For children, this can be like engaging in fun activities after the lights have gone out, such as playing with glow sticks before bed or whispering a fun story.

It is also important for people of all ages to be creative with the amount of light in a room using dimmers or hallway lighting. Nighttime lighting can be helpful for adults and children, but don’t leave too many bright lights on all night because it’s important to practice being in the dark, said Stephen Whiteside, director of the Pediatric Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Mayo Clinic’s Children’s Center. “If you turn on more lights, the problem will likely continue,” he said.

Beresin advised that white noise is helpful in obscuring sounds that can be terrifying at night. Soft music is also a good alternative.

And we all need to minimize screen use before bed to avoid blue light that could be stimulative. “Avoid screens at least two hours before bedtime,” Kurahashi suggested.

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Both adults and children should minimize scary content, especially in the hours before bedtime. “It’s common for kids and some adults to get scared after watching certain shows,” Lewis said.

Those afraid of the dark need not feel sad; thoughtful application of proven practices can help anyone overcome their fears.

“It will take a while,” said Ampadu. Ultimately, those who fear the dark will “build mastery over the fear and remind themselves that they can overcome it.”

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