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A 25-Year Review of Nighttime Fears in Children: Past, Present, and Future


Nighttime fears in children are common, interfere with daily functioning, and result in considerable disruption in the family. The aim of the present review was to examine empirical literature from the past 25 years that investigated the assessment of nighttime fears in young children and the efficacy and effectiveness of psychosocial treatments for children's nighttime fears. The last review of this literature was in 1997 and examined studies conducted in and prior to 1995 (King et al. in Clin Psychol Rev 17:431–443, 1997). Using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, we conducted a systematic review of the literature aimed at providing a synthesis of the Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) and controlled single-case multiple baseline design studies (MBLs) on the treatment of nighttime fears in children. A search of the literature identified 12 articles, with nine studies utilizing a between-group randomized controlled trial design and three studies utilizing a multiple baseline design. Results demonstrated significant improvements in children’s nighttime fears and reductions in disruptive nighttime behaviors using behavioral interventions and cognitive-behavioral strategies. This review provides a commentary on the effectiveness and limitations of the assessment and treatment approaches for nighttime fears in children and suggests directions for future research.

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Correspondence to Krystal M. Lewis.

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Lewis, K.M., Rafihi-Ferreira, R.E., Freitag, G.F. et al. A 25-Year Review of Nighttime Fears in Children: Past, Present, and Future. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 24, 391–413 (2021).

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  • Nighttime fears
  • Children
  • Dark phobia
  • Treatment
  • Assessment