Many children report to having a fear of the dark. Whilst some parents might brush it off as a harmless phobia, having a fear of the dark can be very damaging to a child’s sleep pattern and could lead to future sleep problems as they grow up.
Very similar to anxiety, getting to sleep when fearful is very difficult and often results in the child staying awake late into the night before finally succumbing to sleep.
If a nightlight is purchased, buy one that is as dim as the child is comfortable with. Light is one of the main cues our body clock uses to judge the time of day, designed to send us to sleep when the sun goes down and wake us up when the sun comes back up again in the morning. It’s a critical part of our body’s natural sleep mechanism called the circadian rhythm.
Light prevents the production of the hormone melatonin, a natural chemical in the brain that makes us feel sleepy, because melatonin is only produced in darkness. If you’re exposed to bright light, the onset of sleep won’t come until much later.
Fear of the dark was the cause of my own sleep problems as a child which I was only able to overcome in my twenties. Being afraid of the dark, I used to sleep with the light on. This was despite my parents installing a dimmer switch in my bedroom which I would always turn to full brightness once they had left the room.
Because of the bright light, I was only able to fall asleep during the early hours of the morning though shear exhaustion. Despite growing out of this fear as I grew up, insomnia was very much a part of me and my sleep pattern was shot to pieces.
Whilst people might attribute to having a fear of the dark the result of too many ghost stories, the fear appears to be something we are born with as part of our natural survival instincts. The infographic below examines why so many children have this seemingly irrational fear.