Nyctophobia – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

What is “Nyctophobia” and what are its causes, symptoms, signs, and treatments?

Nyctophobia is when a child fears night time or darkness, this is one of the common childhood fears that progresses till adolescence. Fear of darkness or sleeping alone at night usually develops between 3 to 6 years (36 to 72 months) of age. At this age some of the common fears are:

  • Monsters
  • Ghosts
  • Strange noises

Causes:

  1. Looking at the anxiety or fear of a parent/caregiver could develop a phobia in a child.
  2. Over protection by parents can also lead to anxiety when left alone or without parents (with other family members).
  3. Late night negative experiences, like an accident while travelling or injury can lead to anxiety and panic during the long term.

Physical symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Increased rate of heart beat
  • Trembling
  • Discomfort in speaking
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach
  • Numbness
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting
  • Nausea

Psychological symptoms:

  • Feeling out of touch with reality or detached from your body
  • Fear of fainting
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying

Diagnosis:

  • A mental health expert can diagnose phobia; keep a regular track of your child’s behaviour/health in particular situations and with objects.
  • Phobia diagnosis is based on diagnostic guidelines and a thorough clinical interview. If you feel that your child has a phobia, take him/her to a healthcare expert. Your child’s doctor will either ask you or your child about the symptoms. The doctor might also take a medical, psychiatric, and family history.
  • Your child’s doctor might also use the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Treatment:

  1. Exposure therapy: This treatment exposes children to their fears repeatedly until the thing they fear, such as being in the dark, no longer triggers the feelings of anxiety or panic.
  2. Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT): This type of therapy helps children identify their feelings of anxiety and replace them with more positive or realistic thoughts with the help of a therapist. With nyctophobia, your child may be presented with information to show that being in the dark doesn’t necessarily lead to negative consequences.
  3. Modelling: In this method the child sees another person facing the situation without fear and panic.
  4. Virtual reality (VR): It’s a treatment where your child will be exposed to computer simulations of dark places. Getting the experience of a dark place in the virtual world can help your child get over his/her fear in a setting that feels safe.
  5. Medicines like tranquillisers and antidepressants (prescribed by a doctor) can be helpful along with the above treatments.

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