Entries in Afraid (2)


Can’t Sleep? You May Be Afraid of the Dark

Erik Snyder/Photodisc(BOSTON) -- If you’ve been suffering from sleepless nights, you may have more than simple insomnia -- you may be afraid of the dark.

Results from a new study presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting in Boston are the first to suggest that some adults can’t sleep because they fear darkness.

Researchers in Toronto studied nearly 100 college students who were either good sleepers or poor sleepers. They monitored small twitches in eye muscles during sleep while exposing the subjects to unexpected bursts of sound when the lights were either turned on or off, and what they found was startling.

Poor sleepers were more easily disturbed by the noises and their reactions were exaggerated by darkness.  And over time, while good sleepers became increasingly accustomed to the disturbances, poor sleepers became even more anxious and startled at these alleged bumps in the night.

While treating people with insomnia, Dr. Colleen Carney, principle investigator of the study and director of the Ryeson University sleep and depression laboratory, would continually hear how her patients could only fall asleep if they turned on the television or left the bathroom light on, mannerisms shared with children who are afraid of the dark.

Sure enough, when surveyed, a surprising 46 percent of poor sleepers admitted to harboring current fears of darkness, almost double that observed in good sleepers.

More than 50 percent of Americans report having experienced insomnia in the past year, and 19 percent have chronic sleeping problems.

The high incidence of insomnia among Americans has been attributed to risk factors such as high levels of stress, shift work, or mood disorders such as anxiety or depression.  This study, however, is among the first to suggest that an underlying fear of the dark could be a major contributor.

“Listening to unexpected noise is a useful way of assessing fear of the dark because we can’t inhibit our startle reflex,” Carney said.  “And these behaviors are typical of a phobia.”

Currently, the National Institute of Health recommends improved sleep hygiene and behavioral therapy as first-line treatments for insomnia.  A common recommendation for someone who hasn’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes is to do something else away from bed before reattempting sleep.  But for someone trying to get over a phobia of the dark, turning the light back on may have the unfortunate effect of making them feel even more awake.

The good news about this is that phobia treatment is one of the big success stories of non-drug therapy, and many frustrated poor sleepers may have finally found a new and easy answer to their problems.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


From Halloween to Horror Movies, Why We Love to Be Afraid

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For those who like the genre, a good horror movie arouses a cocktail of chemistry in the cerebral cortex -- the part of the brain that controls memory, perception and consciousness.

And it's not just movies, but amusement park rides and even books and fairy tales that can elicit simultaneously both pleasure and gripping fear.

As Oct. 31 approaches, businesses are capitalizing on the psychology of fear -- the spine-tingling sensation and the joy that goes with it.

This year, Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween horror -- costumes, haunted houses and fright fests -- according to the National Retail Federation.

"We don't have many other holidays that are really directly connected to a strong emotion that is almost universal -- fear and the dark side," said Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University who specializes in thrill-seeking and extreme behavior.

One 2007 study published in Science Daily dispelled earlier assumptions that humans respond to pleasure and avoid pain: "It certainly seems counterintuitive that so many people would voluntarily immerse themselves in almost two hours of fear, disgust and terror.  Why do people pay for this?  How is this enjoyable?" But pay they do: as one example, the third film in the low-budget Paranormal Activity series grossed $54 million over last weekend, making it the highest ever for a film released in October.

Researchers from the University of California and University of Florida concluded what most thrill-seekers know: People can experience both fear and euphoria at the same time.

"Pleasant moments of a particular event may also be the most fearful," it concluded, comparing horror movies to the thrill and fear of extreme sports.

But not everyone likes being scared, according to psychologist Farley, and how a person responds to fear is wired in their personality.  Those who thrive on fear are so-called T-types -- they are thrill-seekers, according to Farley, who coined the term in the 1980s.

"They like uncertainty, suspense, unpredictability, the unknown," he said.  "Uncertainty is the prime source of fear.  You don't know what's going to happen."

Movie makers and amusement park ride creators know how to induce fear.

"There is intensity of stimulation," he said.  "It can be the sound of screams or the visual -- something comes out of nowhere into the face, like a house of horror."

Music is also important, like the pulsating, unforgettable theme of the movie Jaws, heard whenever the great white shark stalked its prey.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio