Nictophilia: features, symptoms, causes and treatment

People are said to be diurnal animals, which is evident in our behavior and habits in society. The social lifestyle is done by thinking of being active during the day and resting at night, which is easily observed by the opening and closing hours of establishments.

However, not everyone likes to sleep at night. Some are more productive just at sunset and not only that, but they enjoy the serenity and calm that the dark mantle of the starry sky provides.

The nictophilia is the name given to the attraction towards the dark night that show some people a condition that is not pathological although depending on how you look at it it could be considered problematic. Let’s see why.

    What is nictophilia?

    Nictophilia is defined as a strong attraction to the dark, especially at night. It is not a paraphilia in the classic sense of the term, but rather a preference on which a way of life is based.

    This attraction does not constitute a psychological disorder or is included in diagnostic classifications such as APA DSM-5 or WHO ICD-11. In fact, as conceptualized, it is difficult to view it as a disorder, as the mere attraction and enjoyment of the night does not in itself involve any health issue.

    The definition we have just seen is taken from the American Psychiatric Association’s psychiatric dictionary, and has no pathological connotation. Since there is as yet no diagnostic system that considers it to be such, and with the lack of related scientific literature, the first conclusion we can draw from nictophilia is that it’s not a psychological problem.

    However, since most human societies are designed with diurnal people in mind, this is the aspect that we might encounter some problems with if you are a nictophile person. Working better at night, being more awake or having a bohemian lifestyle does not fit the way the company is organized where there can be some downsides. However, what is not a pathology should not be pathologized.

      Causes of nictophilia

      There is very little scientific research on nictophilia. It has not yet been established, with sufficient evidence, what causes this nocturnal preference. What they came up with are hypothesis on the origin of nictophilia, among which we can highlight the following.

      1. Personal preferences

      Nictophilia may be the product of simple personal preference. The differences between day and night cause some people to prefer to do more nightlife.

      Night is quieter than day, with less noise, fewer people on the street, less light and, ultimately, less environmental stimuli.. This can be particularly appreciated by photosensitive or hyperacusic people who see in the dark at night the right time to be able to lead a normal life.

        2. Aversive situations

        The other explanation why a person is a nictophile would have to do with try to avoid certain situations, causing the person to try to avoid the contexts or stimuli that are usually given during the day.

          Symptoms of nictophilia

          As we have already pointed out, nictophilia can hardly be considered a pathological problem. However, it can be linked to certain health problems in the event that nocturnal attraction makes it difficult to lead healthy habits or a stable life.

          1. Altered circadian rhythms

          The human body follows biological rhythms, the circadians, which occur in a synchronized manner and regulate aspects such as temperature, sleep, appetite …

          These rhythms help the body to maintain a balance, a homeostasis. Circadian rhythms are regulated by the action of light, so one of the symptoms of nictophilia is that the absence of light can cause alterations in our biological rhythms, especially in the sleep-wake cycles.

          It wouldn’t be strange to think that people who prefer darkness and night have altered their circadian rhythms due to the little exposure to light or the total absence of it.

            2. Work and social difficulties

            As we mentioned earlier, social life is meant to be lived during sunny hours. Most of the activities that come to mind are done during the day, with the exception of sleeping and partying on Saturday nights. Everything else is done during the day, especially between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. When the sun goes down, the streets empty and after 10 p.m., at least on weekdays, most are at home and businesses are closed.

            People who are nictophiles are usually awake at night, so they need to sleep during the day. This is an important question because just when society is active, with shops, banks and doctors’ offices open, nictophiles are quite the opposite, inactive and trying to rest. Thus, the main problems associated with this condition are that it alters aspects of the daily life of the individual causing potential work problems in daytime employment and interferes with social life.

              Treatment of nictophilia

              Nictophilia is not a psychological problem, so there is no intervention for this condition and is not necessary in principle. However, if the nictophile experiences great discomfort because his preference for the dark and the night seriously affects his daily life, his social and professional environment, in addition to altering his biological cycles and manifesting health problems such as maintaining sleep problems, that’s when you need to intervene.

              Before the intervention an assessment will be made to know the causes behind the case of nictophilia in particular. The person may feel that they are more productive at night or that they prefer the least amount of stimuli given to them at night. It can also happen that it is actually a symptom, a consequence of a real mental disorder, such as being in the euphoric phase of bipolar disorder in which the patient is showing levels of activity even in the wee hours of the night.

              During the assessment phase it will be checked what are the causes that make the person stay awake at night and sleep during the day, by analyzing if there is some kind of positive reinforcement or if there is an aversive stimulus associated with the avoided day.

              Depending on what is in this phase, the health professional to whom the patient has referred will design the corresponding intervention to improve his state of health, in addition to being able to gradually invest his sleep schedules. .

              Bibliographical references

              • American Psychiatric Association (2020). APA Dictionary of Psychology.
              • American Psychiatric Association (2014). DSM-5. DSM-5-Breviary Diagnostic Criteria Reference Guide. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
              • World Health Organization (WHO) (2018) International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision. Retrieved from https://icd.who.int/es
              • Psychiatry (sf) Nictophilia. Psychiatrie.com.

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