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Some adults with sleep disturbances are actually afraid of the dark, study says

Researchers suggest some insomnia be treated differently after nearly half of a small sample of students were roused at bedtime because of a dark-related phobia

A small study of Toronto college students is shedding light on a contributing factor of insomnia that might be hard to admit – an adult fear of the dark.

Nearly half of the students who reported having poor sleep also reported a fear of the dark. Researchers confirmed this objectively by measuring blink responses to sudden noise bursts in light and dark surroundings. Good sleepers became accustomed to the noise bursts but 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 Taryn Moss, the study's lead author. "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 abstract "Are people with insomnia afraid of the dark? A pilot study" from Ryerson University Sleep & Depression Lab is being presented today at SLEEP 2012, the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Boston.

Colleen Carney, PhD, the principal investigator, said insomnia treatments are highly effective but not everyone responds or completely recovers. New approaches may be warranted. For example, the most effective insomnia treatments encourage people to leave the dark bedroom and go into another, lit room; however, this would not be a way to treat a dark-related phobia.

"We may need to add treatment components for these 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."

To be placed on the mailing list for SLEEP 2012 press releases or to register for SLEEP 2012 press credentials, contact AASM PR Coordinator Doug Dusik at 630-737-9700 ext. 9364, or at

A joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, the annual SLEEP meeting brings together an international body of more than 5,500 leading clinicians and scientists in the fields of sleep medicine and sleep research. At SLEEP 2012, more than 1,300 research abstract presentations will showcase new findings that contribute to the understanding of sleep and the effective diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

Follow @aasmorg on Twitter for live updates and use the official hashtag #SLEEP2012 to see what attendees are saying. "Like" the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on Facebook at for photos, videos and more.

Doug Dusik | EurekAlert!
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