Your question: Why do I get anxiety when it gets dark?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Nighttime is a period commonly associated with rest. You come home tired from work or college, prepare dinner, take a bath and go to bed, but suddenly, a deep sense of fear and anxiety invades your body and mind, and again, sleep becomes a problem.

Feeling anxious when it gets dark is quite normal, and is mainly related to sleeping problems and fear of the dark that is as old as mankind itself. One study showed that in general, nighttime is a period of significant anxiety in which physical and psychological fear responses are more easily activated(1).

Although many adults are ashamed to admit it, fear of the dark is quite common. Also, previous traumatic experiences at night are associated with feelings of anxiety after dark.

Regardless of the source of your night anxiety, there are ways to cope with it and improve your overall quality of life. As scary and uncomfortable as it feels to face our fears and anxieties, it is necessary in order to have a better life.

Being an adult and feeling anxious at night is normal, it’s not just a kid thing. Taking the step to start changing is difficult, so I would like to be the one to support you in understanding the origin of your nighttime anxiety and propose strategies that you can apply to feel better about yourself.

Why do you feel anxiety when it gets dark?

When it gets dark, the stimuli that are present to distract us during the day tend to diminish. The body prepares for a period of rest, but anxiety can prevent you from getting a restful night’s sleep. There are several reasons why you may feel anxious at night, some of the most common are:

Fear of the dark

Many adults are embarrassed to admit that they are afraid of the dark because they associate it with childhood and immaturity, yet it is more common than it seems. A survey (2) conducted by an electrical company showed that almost 50% of adults surveyed were afraid of the dark to a lesser or greater extent. People with fear of the dark may exhibit symptoms similar to panic attacks, such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, trembling or shaking, as well as an intense urge to escape.

Another study(3) showed that fear of the dark in adults tends to be avoided, and is related to chronic anxiety and low self-esteem. Adults repress and do not tell anyone about their fear of the dark because they associate it with a childhood fear, and are ashamed to talk about it out loud.

Sleep problems

It has been shown(4) that sleep disturbances (particularly insomnia) are prevalent in people with anxiety problems. Insomnia, night terrors and nightmares are associated with the night period, so when it gets dark, you may experience anxiety at the thought that you are likely to spend another sleepless night or have nightmares that will wake you with a start.

Traumatic experiences

If you have experienced traumatic moments during the night, such as an assault at home, a traffic accident or receiving bad news, it is likely that you will begin to feel night anxiety.

Anxious thoughts

At night you are more likely to have overwhelming and anxious thoughts than during the day (5). This happens because at night you have less stimuli to capture your attention compared to the daytime, therefore, just before bedtime you may ruminate stressful thoughts over and over again, causing your nighttime anxiety.

These nighttime sleep-depriving thoughts may be related to work or academic stress, relationship concerns, or anxieties you have about your own identity and self-worth.

How to cope with night anxiety?

To deal with anxiety that appears in the dark, there are different strategies. You should keep in mind that going to a professional such as a psychologist or a doctor is ideal to feel better about yourself and address severe problems related to insomnia and sleep in general.

Relaxation and breathing

Jacobson’s relaxation technique (6) may be useful for you, as it focuses on decreasing the unpleasant sensations associated with anxiety and panic attacks. This technique is done lying down, in a quiet environment with your eyes closed. It consists in focusing your attention on a part of your body, making slow movements, tensing and releasing the tension. For example in your feet, you make slow circular movements, tense them and then release the tension. 

Then you do the same with your legs, and so on until you reach your head. It will take as long as you feel necessary, but it lasts approximately 5 to 10 minutes. It is a slow but effective exercise, that with time you will learn to control it perfectly and you will notice an improvement in the control of your nocturnal anxiety.

Buy a night light

Fear of the dark in adults is real and can be very paralyzing. There is no need to feel ashamed of any fear, as no one is to blame for having them. As an adult, you have the ability to manage your fear of the dark with different strategies and using a night light is one of them. When you experience anxiety at night, in the darkness of your room, watch the night light in your room while breathing slowly until you feel calm.


Physical activity is beneficial for the body and mind as it allows for greater control over the body and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that generate psychological well-being in people. Doing physical activity before going to sleep can help you both to reduce the symptoms of nighttime anxiety and to fall asleep more easily. Light stretching exercises are ideal to do at night.

In my experience…

Feeling anxious or afraid of nightfall is a stressful and uncomfortable experience that not many adults dare to talk about. It is a common experience, rooted in fear of the dark, traumatic experiences and sleep problems. No one is to blame for experiencing nighttime anxiety. 

Although anxiety makes you feel vulnerable and awakened, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. You can cope with nighttime anxiety through specific techniques that allow you to confront your general fears and sleep problems. You need to supplement what you learn in this blog with professional help, either from a psychologist or a sleep doctor, to help you employ strategies specific to your particular anxiety situation.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this message proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

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