Why Are We Scared of the Dark?

Isabella Barraza

The things that go bump in the night, the ticking of the clock increasingly getting louder, the wind whistling outside the window. All things that seem completely normal during the day. So, why are we completely terrified of those things during the night?

The fear of darkness is something that most people grew up with and then grow out of once they become adults or have children of their own to take care of. For some people, it develops into a phobia called nyctophobia that may cause them to go into therapy. Nyctophobia is more extreme than just fear of the dark. It is a fear of the night and/or darkness. Anything can trigger this fear; for example, the thought of being in the dark can trigger it. As mentioned, there are solutions to coping with the phobia. Aromatherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are treatment options as well.

A reason for this sense of being paranoid is that, when the lights turn off, our instinct is to remain safe, but when we are put in a dark, quiet environment our minds immediately conjure up images or things that are not really there. Jad Abumrad, a co-host for Radiolab, sat in a dark an-echoic chamber for an hour and began to experience sounds that were not there. A dark an-echoic chamber is a soundproof room with no light. Jab Abumrad started to hear a swarm of bees in the room and heard a song start to play when there was not any sound in the room. According to Trevor Cox, a professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, explained that it was assumed that sounds we hear go directly to our brain. “Well, there’s actually more connections coming down from the brain to the ear than there are going back up it.” The silence causes our ears to make sound for us to hear which is why sometimes sounds that we hear are not really there. We imagine scary animals or people from video games/horror movies standing at the foot of our bed. This is called hypnagogic hallucinations. This means the hallucinations occur while we are trying to fall asleep. According to the international classification of sleep disorders manual, in 2014, one reason can be that there is a lack of stimulus leading to the visual cortex in the brain creating images. Being in the dark leaves us with the feeling that we cannot control anything, and that we are vulnerable to anything surrounding us.

Once we get into bed and our day is over, our brains are left with nothing to do except to think. During the night, we are left with our thoughts which, for some people, can be scary. Regrets and fears are just some things that our minds think about during the night. People think about what worries them or something they did 10 years ago, and it causes those bad memories to creep in.

Crime is also more likely to happen during the night. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 66.2% of the crime committed by people 18 and older happens at 10 pm. This is a reason why we find the dark as something scary. Motor vehicle theft, for example, is 71.7% more likely to happen during the night, according to the NCVS (the National Crime Victimization Survey). This is why it can be scary to think that your car could be stolen, and it would not be noticed until the next morning.

We are able to forget about our fears and worries throughout the day because we are distracted by everyday tasks. The darkness can cause us to go into a downward spiral, but when the sun starts to rise and we have that mindset that we are safe again, all those fears, worries, and regrets are all something that are left behind in the dark.

Sources: http://www.medicaldaily.com/why-were-afraid-dark-evolutionary-and-rational-impulse-protect-ourselves-329414