12 June 2012

Insomnia caused by fear of the dark?

by Will Parker

Canadian researchers say that an adult fear of the dark may be a contributing factor in cases of insomnia. The findings, based upon a study of a small group of Toronto college students, were presented this week at the SLEEP 2012 conference in Boston.

Taryn Moss, the study's lead author, said that nearly half of the subjects who reported having poor sleep also reported a fear of the dark. Moss, from Ryerson University, confirmed this objectively by measuring blink responses to sudden noise bursts in light and dark surroundings. While the good sleepers became accustomed to the noise bursts, the poor sleepers grew more anticipatory when the lights were down.

"The poor sleepers were more easily startled in the dark compared with the good sleepers," said Moss. "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."

According to the findings, new approaches to insomnia are warranted, argue the researchers. Co-researcher Colleen Carney noted that most insomnia treatments encourage people to leave the dark bedroom and go into another, lit room; however, this would not be an appropriate way to treat a dark-related phobia.

"We may need to add treatment components for these [dark-phobic] patients and adapt existing treatment components in light of the phobia," Carney said. "A lot more research is needed, but we believe we have stumbled across an unmet treatment need for some poor sleepers."

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Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine