Your question: Why do I get scared at night for no reason?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Nighttime should be a time of calm and rest, when after the hustle and bustle of the day attending to responsibilities, you can devote peace and quiet and sleep. However, many people experience fear and anxiety when the sun begins to set. The night brings these people an anguish and worry that is difficult to explain, and they struggle to find the source of this feeling.

Fear is a natural and evolutionary emotion. It has its function in that it alerts you to dangers and prepares your body for fight or flight. However, fear can become excessive and annoying when it appears in random situations, without any apparent danger. At night, it is common to feel fear because the stimuli that distract you during the day are gone, and you are often left alone with your thoughts. As a consequence, fear at night generates insomnia and discomfort in daily life, clashing with adult responsibilities and increasing anxiety in your general life.

Why during the day are you calm but at night you feel afraid?

Fear and anxiety can appear at night because people focus more on their worries than during the day (1). In adult life, the morning and evening are usually the time of work and family responsibilities. Being busy with constant activities means that your brain does not have time to focus and connect with your emotions because adult life demands productivity.

At night, once you have finished doing all the chores of the day, and you go to bed expecting to rest, fear can appear because it is finally the time when you are without distractions, and our brain sends out a sea of distressing thoughts and feelings that had been contained throughout the day.

Being away from stimuli, it is easier for you to feel fear or sadness at night than during the day. Also, at night people tend to be more reactive and fearful of the world in general because sensitivity is heightened. Your senses are not focused on a task, so you are more susceptible to noises or lights that can generate sudden fear. In general, fear at night makes you believe that there is a danger present that can harm you, even if it is exaggerated or non-existent.

What is the origin of your night fear?

Each person experiences fear differently, therefore, the origin of fear is also variable from person to person. When you focus on the fear that occurs at night, the most common causes are:

Sleep problems

You may have a chronic sleep problem, and when night comes, your mind is flooded with sleep-related worries. You become anxious because you feel that you will not be able to fall asleep and that worry in turn prevents you from falling asleep. Some people experience recurring nightmares, and the fear of having those nightmares causes them to stay awake all night. These problems should be treated with a medical specialist.

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. 

Traumatic experiences

Stressful or traumatic events that have occurred during the night have close associations with night fright. If you have suffered a burglary or home invasion, if you received tragic news or if you saw first-hand a frightening event at night, you may feel fear in the nights following the traumatic event, even years after you experienced it. This happens because your brain now associates the night with a period of worry, violence and terror.


Night fear is related to anxiety, since the latter is a generator of physical and emotional symptoms that can cause you to remain in a state of wakefulness during the night. Night anxiety manifests itself through intrusive and overwhelming thoughts about various events. In general, anxiety causes you fear because it presents in your mind terrifying and catastrophic scenarios, repetitive worries of life in general, which appear with more frequency and intensity at night because that is when your brain is more distracted. Thus, during the night, anxiety causes you to worry about financial debts, relationship problems or everything that needs to be done at work, which in turn generates intense fear.

How to calm your night fear?

There are different strategies that you can implement to alleviate the feeling of fear that appears at night. However, it is worth noting that if the fear persists and affects your state of sleep in a recurrent way, it is important to see a doctor.

Decrease caffeine

When you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages all the time, you tend to be hyperstimulated. This chemical stimulates the brain and keeps it in a constant state of wakefulness waiting for a jolt, so reducing the levels you consume on a daily basis will help.

Relaxation and breathing

Jacobson’s relaxation technique (3) 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 and with your eyes closed. It consists in that from your feet to your head, you focus 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 10 to 20 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 fear.

Talk to yourself

You must learn to know your fear and anxiety firsthand and make peace with them. Fear is not your enemy, as it is a natural emotion that will never completely leave your life. Talking to yourself before bedtime, and during nighttime fear episodes, helps you to concentrate and gain control over your emotions. Repeat to yourself: “(Your name), everything is fine. Nothing is affecting you right now. Whatever worries you now, you will resolve later. This is your moment of rest and no one can take it away from you.” This mantra, done in a recurrent way, can help you to diminish fear and fall asleep.

In my experience…

Fear at night is common, and you are not strange or weird because of it. Simply, it is certain that at this moment in your life you are dealing with many external pressures that you do not know how to manage correctly, and your body and mind are talking to you through fear to ask you to dedicate yourself and your mental health. It is also important to see a professional to help you find a more specific treatment for you if these strategies are not working for you. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective in treating different forms of anxiety and will give you more accurate tools to manage your emotions.

Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. You can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads you in the right direction..

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