Fear of Dark Keeps Some Adults Awake at Night: Study

Sleep researchers say phobia may call for alternative treatment

MONDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- Some adults who have problems sleeping may actually be afraid of the dark, a small new study suggests.

Researchers at the Ryerson University Sleep and Depression Lab in Toronto used loud noises to measure blink responses among a group of college students in both light and dark settings. They found good sleepers got used to the noises while the students with trouble sleeping anticipated the outbursts when the lights were out.

"The poor sleepers were more easily startled in the dark compared with the good sleepers," study author Taryn Moss said in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "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."

The study is scheduled for presentation Monday at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting in Boston.

The researchers suggested new treatments may be needed to help adults with sleeping problems who are afraid of the dark.

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

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about sleeping difficulty.

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