OCD and Sleep


Like a lot of people, I deal with bouts of insomnia every now and then, and so I know firsthand what a lack of sleep can do to a person. I often end up with a headache and sore throat, am irritable, easily stressed, and have trouble thinking clearly. And, of course, I’m exhausted.

It seems to me that a lot of OCD sufferers have sleep issues. I know that when Dan’s OCD was severe, he often roamed the house all hours of the night, and when he finally slept, it was rarely in his own bed. I’d often find him on a couch in the morning, and less frequently, on the floor. Wherever he could finally settle down, or collapse, is where he slept. So not only was he dealing with severe OCD, he was dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation.

I think OCD, by its very nature, is unconducive to a good night’s sleep. How can you sleep when you have to continually check to make sure the door is locked or the stove is off? How can you relax when you need to review your entire day in your head to make sure you didn’t do anything wrong?  How can you breathe easy when you find yourself ruminating on, of all things, not being able to sleep? Really, as anybody with OCD most likely knows, the possibilities are endless.

Sleep is critical to our well-being. A recent study concluded that an adequate amount of sleep is more effective in reducing pain sensitivity than sixty milligrams of codeine. I find that amazing. If sleep is that powerful, surely being deprived of it is detrimental to our health? And it’s a catch-22: Those with OCD can’t sleep because of their OCD and this lack of sleep intensifies the disorder.

Dan also went through a period of time when all he wanted to do was sleep, and he seemed to have no problem doing this. I believe this was related to depression when his OCD was severe, and also might be attributed to some of the many medications he was taking. We need to be aware that certain medications can affect our sleep in different ways, from insomnia to the inability to stay awake.

So how can those with OCD get the appropriate amount of sleep? I have no magical solution, but eating well, exercising, and living an overall healthy lifestyle can’t hurt. When Dan couldn’t sleep, listening to music sometimes helped distract himself from his own mind. For others, audio books or keeping the television on might work. I think the best solution, though by far not the easiest, is to work hard at fighting your OCD with a competent therapist and appropriate therapy. Hopefully then, this unwanted guest won’t stick around for any sleep-overs.

I’d love to hear how those of you with OCD deal with too much, or too little, sleep.

This entry was posted in Mental Health, OCD and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

105 Responses to OCD and Sleep

  1. Tina Barbour says:

    Janet, great post! You covered some good information. I have periods when I can’t sleep well, and I think lately it was related to a medication that I now don’t take. Since I stopped taking it, it’s been easier to fall asleep. But if I get hyped up on my thoughts–OCD and other anxious thoughts–it just gets harder. I also go through periods when I could sleep 24/7. I think that’s when depression is rearing its ugly head. I find that good habits like those you mentioned and having a bedtime routine helps me.

  2. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks, Tina, for sharing your insights. I agree a bedtime routine is a good idea…..thanks for suggesting that!

  3. Janet, after college (when I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat!!), I had (and still have) a really tough time falling asleep. The solution for me was audiobooks. If I am listening to an audiobook, it occupies my thoughts with thoughts of the story, not other random, intrusive (or otherwise) thoughts. This is also the only way I can do long car rides alone without going mad.

    It’s one small step trickier though– to fall asleep, it has to be a story I am pretty familiar with; otherwise, I stay awake to hear what happens! This might be the reason I listen to the Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books) a couple dozen times each year. 🙂

  4. ocdtalk says:

    Let’s hear it for audiotapes!

  5. Jen E says:

    Great post and the audio book is a great idea never thought of that. I have ringing in the ears also so I run a sound radio that plays crickets and my computer runs mp3’s for a few hours with soothing sounds music. I download them off amazon they have of ton of tracks for meditating, storms, waterfalls, birds etc. I will tell you though I had a horrible cold last week and some of the best sleep I got was when I had a cold. Now that I’m better if I get up I’m up or I lay in bed for hours with bad thoughts coming in my head or I have the opposite like Tina and want to sleep forever. If I had insurance I would so get help though.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for commenting, Jen. It sounds as if you do a lot of things to help with your sleeping, but sometimes nothing really helps. That’s interesting that you slept better with a cold…at least there’s some benefit to being sick! Maybe the audio tapes will help……let me know!

  6. 71º & Sunny says:

    Oh, I wish I did properly deal with my sleep issues! I’m still troubled by either lack of sleep or over sleeping. Sometimes I don’t sleep because my mind is racing. Other times I don’t sleep because I struggle with restless leg syndrome. Other times, I’m so tired I can barely stay awake. Lack of sleep is a tremendous trigger for my OCD, so my sleep issues are definitely problematic. There are things I could do to sleep better – go to bed at the same time every night, wake up every day at the same time, avoid caffeine, avoid working on the computer late at night, etc. But . . . habits are hard to change!

    It’s funny – lack of sleep often gives me a sore throat too. Not really sure why.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Hi Sunny, I always felt the sore throat came with a lowered resistance to illness from lack of sleep. Who knows? You’re right……….there are lots of things we can do to help get a good night’s sleep, but we don’t always do them. Then again, sometimes nothing works. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Pinned you. http://pinterest.com/pin/147141112797213023/ Thank you for sharing such helpful knowledge, not just to the OCD community but to others who need to increase their understanding of the major mental illness if stigma is to be overcome. Those who suffer with such a burden are not forced to carry more because of stigma. Stay strong..

  8. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks Katherine, for your ongoing support!

  9. kris says:

    I was nodding my head up and down while reading this post. For me depression = too much sleep, anxiety = too little. I have not had depression in a long time but still deal with anxiety and the nights that I cannot quiet my mind are really rough and then I suffer all day with extreme anxiety, including worrying if I will sleep the next night. Ugh. I cannot use the computer before bed at all, something about that jazzes me up. I do read every night and just read till I am sleepy. I have a relaxation CD that I pull out if I am having a really tough time falling asleep and this CD has some breathing exercises that really calm me and usually I fall asleep before the tracks are over. I found incorporating exercise, like walking 40 minutes to an hour, into my daily routine was invaluable both for the relief of anxiety and promoting a good nights sleep.

  10. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for sharing, Kris. You certainly use a lot of great techniques to help with sleeping! I agree with you about the exercise. On days I don’t exercise, I almost always have trouble sleeping.

  11. Those are excellent points!! When I can’t sleep, if it’s too extended, or I know I have to be up early, I get so anxious I get stomach upset and tension headaches. It’s a vicious cycle too, because my obsessions and anxiety just keep me up more. So many people really do not understand what it’s like, even for the well medicated. :/

  12. Thank you once again for a great post and helpful information. My daughter has ways had sleep issues even before OCD. When she was 8 and the OCD became severe sleep was a huge issue, a huge trigger and it was a revolving door She would get in fits of rage and reuse to sleep and would fall asleep eventually out of exhaustion but then would wake up angry! Now she doesn’t have the rate issue but bedtime is when 0cd is often the worst for her She is almost 11 now.
    She needs something to distract her to go to sleep Nd I love the familiar audio book idea. She has read and is doing a sudoku puzzle as I type this. She says music is not enough for her. We have had issues finding her something to do as it takes her a while to wind down to go to sleep and even after a Long bed ritual of snack and some other routines with the family She definitely does better with exercise. She needs a lot of physical activities and dances for 2 + hours twice. Week but on other days we need to make sure she gets good level of activity. She tkes magnesium every night and morning. I think Epsom salt bath in the evening really helps too. It is Nother source of magnesium ( I think). She also has had severe leg cramps/ possible restless leg issues- which has been much better with all the supplements she takes ( she takes a variety of amino acids and some herbs- from our ND that help brain neurotransmitters. As well as magnesium vitamins and we increase her mineral intake by taking nettle- tea (usually cold and mixed into a smoothie).
    I agree with the depression causing too much sleep- which is something I have had issues with. I rarely have issues with not bein able to fall aeep- unless I’ve been writing and have had caffeine and my mind is full of so many ideas- as I tend to be a night owl- I did have issues sleeping when my husband was in the hospital for 12 days after a severe heart –almost fatal- attack. I started to have a bad dream the first night and woke myself up or something and from that night on- I couldn’t sleep more than 3 hours at a time. But I was running on adrenaline with young kids at home and going to hospital every day. Then I began to “crash” after about a week of that and had panic attacks and or blood sugar issues. Sleep so does affect our health!
    I could never relate to not being able to fall asleep too well and even with that experience I feel asleep exhausted way night but couldn’t sleep long because of anxiety… Probably deprived myself of REM sleep.
    My daughter has issues with “bad dreams”‘which really means dreams about her fears / contamination issues- she usually can’t tell us about the dream and we try guess nd get a general idea. Then she has to wash longer and sheets had to be changed before next night – it has gotten better- she used to wake up in a panic because of the “bad dream” and it would take her awhile to move forward.
    We did try melatonin this summer and at first it worked great and fast! But after a month or so of using it nearly every night , it became ineffective and the more I read about it and talked to my ND, learned it was better for occasional use and minimal dose. It does have side effect of vivid dreams which we have seen as an issue recently. She has gotten where she wakes and thinks she had a bad dream but doesn’t make a big deal about it and my wash up a little longer than usual and needs sheets changed but the couple times she has had melatonin recently, I’ve noticed she remembers the dream more so and she has more panic about the dream and gets stuck in am with feeling like she needs to wash a really long time and shower – but not wanting to get up and get started.

    Another helpful thing for sleep that you can buy is something called calm – its magnesium and I think calcium with stevia flavored Ina powered drink mix. She can’t take it because she has issues with citrus as well as gluten and eggs and oats nd her oCd and especially her behavior has been MUCH better without those foods- as well as no dyes, MSG and most preservatives and no HFCS.
    The foods were determined first by an IgG allergy test and also by I instill and addin items back- every time we try eggs or citrus like the calm drink one time, she seams to have an OCD flare up/ behavior issue often affecting bedtime.
    Thanks for this topic! I could go on. So glad to be a part of the conversation here nd really love hearing from hose of you with OCD as I try to help my daughter who is only just now becoming better able to fight it and identify it as separate from herself. My heart goes out to all who are afflicted. No try to imagine what it’s like to be supportive for her but know I can never really understand – as one who doesn’t suffer with OCD. Thanks again for a great post!

  13. ocdtalk says:

    Thank you, Gina, for sharing and also for your insights. I find your attention to your daughter’s diet interesting, and I’m sure others might find that info helpful as well. I do remember Dan trying melatonin for a brief time, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. So much trial and error, but it’s worth it when you find what works!

  14. Janet – I wanted to add to what my wife Gina posted about our daughter. I also used EFT tapping and meditation to calm her down and help her fall asleep. Some nights it works better than others.

  15. A brilliant post that I can really identify with – particularly with not being able to sleep becausee I keep getting up to check things! I really find an audio book or a familiar television show or film very helpful (nothing too taxing for the brain and not something I really want to see for the first time, otherwise I stay awake on purpose!) They really help me compete with my thoughts and can block out any unwanted sounds I ‘hear’. When I’m bad I often tell myself that I won’t get up to check ‘x’ until I’ve got to a certain part of the show/film/book – then often I’m asleep and have avoided getting up to check.
    I also find meditation really helpful and there are some great free tracks online. I’ve found ones by Deborah Kerslake really helpful and there’s a free one you can try at http://www.thekerslakecompany.com/products.html – just scroll down. These really do stop the unwanted thoughts coming and I feel refreshed after. 9/10 I fall asleep during them.
    Keep up the great blog!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks so much for sharing and for the great tips, including the link to the meditation tracks. I will check them out. Glad you’ve found some things that have worked for you!

  16. bonnie says:

    I just discovered this post. My earliest memory is of lying awake, afraid to bother my parents, too young to tell time, wondering when the light will come back.
    My OCD affected all my life, with a couple spectacular crashes (failing an entire semester at college, being fired at age 40), but I was just diagnosed at age 51 when I realized I couldn’t take it or hide it any longer. Right now Trazadone, Clonazepan, and Abilify plus about an hour of reading get me to sleep by midnight most nights. It takes an alarm, bright light plus my husband’s insistence to get me up again at 6:00. But I’m less tired than at any other point in my life. It really seems to be impossible to understand insomnia and OCD if you don’t have it but I’m glad most people (like my totally loving, helpful, and understanding husband) don’t suffer from it. Thanks for the post and all your comments.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Bonnie, I am so sorry that you suffered for so long. I can’t even begin to imagine how your life was affected by your untreated OCD. Your story will surely inspire others who have gone so long without treatment to seek help. It’s never too late to work toward recovery. Thanks for sharing!

  17. hayley says:

    well at first ocd didn’t let me sleep at all because of the anxiety and ruminations, but I didn’t have much trouble sleeping. I have bad nights when I have nightmares involving my obsessions and I wake up feeling anxious, or my anxious thoughts force me to wake up. Also there were days the only thing I wanted to do was sleep because I felt depressed. These days I’m feeling much better and I sleep well. 🙂
    BTW love your articles!

  18. Jonathan says:

    I’m pretty sure I have delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), which really manifested when I went away to college. I’ll find myself groggy during the day but jittery and deeply immersed in things at night. And I HATE it! Been OCD all my life and have taken meds since college; not sure if these meds contribute to the dysregulated sleep patterns. I sometimes feel like I’m losing all motivation for everything and it’s quite distressing. Starting low dose melatonin to try and get back on schedule.

    • Hi Jonathan, Thanks for sharing and I’m interested to hear if the melatonin helps. I’m not really familiar with DSPS and I hope you have a good doctor who you trust and who can steer you in the right direction. I know the meds my son took definitely affected his sleep so that might be something worth bringing up with your doctor. I’m thinking of you and hope things improve soon. Wishing you all the best!

  19. sparhauoc says:

    I have severe OCD – as in I became a blubbering mess regularly until I got on medication. Sleep is still one of my main issues. Thanks to the meds, my OCD is no longer to the point that I am not able to function at all, but I’m still constantly exhausted, unable to rest at night, (and it’s affecting my life at work as a result) etc. Working with my psychiatrist to try to figure out ways to make it where I can sleep at night. It’s really only a problem in the spring (weird I know, but the pattern has been established for over 7 years) – my normal medication routine works fine 9 months out of the year, but it’s April, and I’m starting to have issues again.

    • Wow, that’s interesting, that it is such a cyclical thing for you. I hope you and your doctors can find a solution, and please keep me posted when you do! Wishing you all the best.

  20. Les says:

    My OCD keeps me up at night. I lie next to my wife wishing I could join her in a peaceful sleep. The anxiety is at times overwhelming and I feel like I’m not going to get through the night, I just try and focus on the positives and hope for better days. It’s a struggle but we can’t give up, we owe it to ourselves and our families to keep soldiering on! Sympathy for all you OCD sufferers out there, it’s hard but we can beat this!

    • Thanks for sharing, Les, and I’m sorry anxiety keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep. I like your attitude to not give up, because OCD is beatable! I wish you all the best.

  21. Saskia says:

    I want to express gratitude to the Parenting Kids & Teens with OCD support group on YAHOO for directing me to your blog. I’m so impressed with the resources you offer here. I only wish I had discovered you sooner on this intense journey with our 19 year old son. He’s now in a transition program for young adults in southern Oregon, living & working on a organic farm, getting therapy and meds, learning social and life skills, and trying to sleep. At home, his intrusive thoughts interrupted almost all of high school (especially the last two years) and where prescribed meds failed, he went to marijuana, mushrooms and alcohol to find relief – a brilliant, sensitive, gifted kid just languishing in this exhausting and guilt/shame-ridden nightmarish world. We tried interrupting it all with neurofeedback therapy, CBT, ERP, cranial sacral therapy, hypnotherapy, homeopathy, meditation, nutrition, herbs and acupuncture. None of which had sustained success, partly due to his addiction issues (to pot). We are ever hopeful that he will be able to find his way in this very structured program. He’s on a new script, Luvox, and perhaps it will give him more relief along with his cognitive behavioral tools. And may he find a way to sleep with a roommate in his room….

    • Hi Saskia, Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I am so sorry to hear you and your son are having such a difficult time, and I hope the program he is in will be helpful. I know it is so difficult to see our children suffer, but you sound like an amazing parent and there is so much hope for your son. Good luck as you continue this journey with him and I hope to hear from you again.

  22. Laura says:

    I can’t sleep, been having nightmares and have been yelling at people lately for stupid things I should just let go. I am pissed off at myself for this.

  23. WR381 says:

    Where to start?? — I’m 33 and have had OCD since around age 9-10, but diagnosed at 17. Before diagnosis, I had NO sleep problems whatsoever. But when I was prescribed SSRIs (which I’m still on), my sleep quality collapsed. I was on Paxil for 4 years – that was like being drunk. I, mistakenly, took Celexa for a whopping 10 years after that, coming off in November. That damn pill had a mishmash of contradictory effects – it was like being on speed while simultaneously exhausted at the same time. (I now know from the literature that SSRIs are notorious for disrupting REM sleep, which, to me, is counterproductive to *effective* treatment.) After Celexa, I went on Zoloft in November and that did improve sleep quality, but made me lethargic and flat. When I lost my job 6 weeks ago, I spiraled. I could not get out of bed and developed my first ever bonafide depressive episode. When I increased my dose of Zoloft to 100 mg 4 months, chronic daily GI problems began and I’m now 20 lbs lighter (I’m a 5’10” male and my new weight of 120 lbs. is ghastly).

    This past Sunday, my doctor told me to stop Zoloft (I was becoming fearful for my life in lieu of the dangerously low mood and diarrhea/weight loss). Now on super low dose Luvox. It was like a light went on. The GI problems are GONE, I have slept a consolidated 6-7 hours a night, and my high energy drive is back. (Getting good news yesterday about a new job didn’t hurt either!). I feel, for the first time in 15 years, that I might just have a medicine that will work but will not wreck havoc on my body and sleep. Until a week ago, I was ready to write myself off as a VICTIM, not a BENEFICIARY, of psychiatry!! I’m not bashing these drugs, but the benefits damned well better be worth the side effects. Because if I hadn’t found Luvox, I was 100% ready to go medication-free, just to get my life back.

    • Thanks for sharing and I’m so sorry to hear you have had such a rough time with medication. I hope the Luvox continues to work well. I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried ERP therapy for your OCD in addition to your meds? Thanks again for commenting. I wish you all the best!

      • WR381 says:

        Thanks Janet. Indeed, the *wrong* medication is sometimes worse than NO medication.

        I believe this is one of the consequences of the inexact science in the field of psychiatry. Drugs for other conditions (diabetes, blood pressure) do pretty much the same thing across the board, with minor variance. But with antidepressants, you get one person who becomes jittery and anxious and another for whom it acts like a sleeping pill and makes them gain weight.

        I think the bottom line is that patients must keep an open dialogue with their prescribing physician, and if something just doesn’t feel right, it needs to be brought up. Until we get a more medically reproducible model of depression and anxiety disorders, available drug therapies are really a blindfolded game of trial and error.

    • I so agree with you, and if I didn’t know better, I’d ask if you just read my book (not due out until January 2015) :). Not only do we have to bring up concerns about meds to our doctors, the doctors also need to take our concerns seriously.

      • WR381 says:

        I will definitely read it Janet! 🙂

        Yes, this really is all just a shot in the dark. I know many naysayers would take these “negative” comments to mean that psychiatry is nothing but a sham, but it is not. What is really means is that the human brain is a lot more complex than other organs in the body. And treatment for other conditions or ailments, from headaches to diabetes and high blood pressure, is pretty straightforward and predictable (ie aspirin and insulin do what they’re supposed to do with little variance). But why one antidepressant may knock someone out and cause weight loss while for another, it’ll cause insomnia and weight gain is a frustrating unknown.

        That being said, I think far too many psychiatrists, my own included, can be very disingenuous by dismissing our concerns and side effects, especially when they say,
        ‘Well I don’t usually have patients experience that so maybe it’s all in your head….” Well…applause to all your “other” patients who happen to have a stomach as solid as Gibraltar or who sleep well!!! Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people.

        Anyway, fingers crossed for the Luvox!! 😀

      • WR381 says:

        Oops. Looks like I repeated myself a little bit, though I’m good at that. 😉

      • No problem! You obviously feel strongly. I hope things continue to go well.

  24. Julie says:

    My daughter is 10 and struggles with OCD and anxiety. We go to a therapist and a psychiatrist almost weekly. Her OCD is mostly sensory. Her hands feel sticky all the time so she washes them, she can’t touch door knobs because they smell and then she washes her hands, she hears people breathing, sees spots in her eyes when she closes them, and her ears pop. She has not slept a full night in 2 weeks, maybe 3-4 hours a night because her hears pop. Her psychiatrist started her on clonidine to sleep and it didn’t work. We increased the dose and she still isn’t sleeping, it’s better but still not great. When she goes to therapy she talks about her “brain monster” (that is what she chose to name her OCD) and ways to fight it and not let it bully her. She talks back to her brain monster and we tell it to leave us alone and it is normal for people’s ears to pop, that is is ok, but she can’t get it to make her ears stop popping. She has a picture by her bed that she drew and it is her drawn bigger than her brain monster to remind her that she is bigger than her brain monster. We put on a head band type thing at night to help her ears, we listen to soft music, I read books to her and she also take that med but nothing is working. She still can’t get the ear popping out of her head and she walks around all night saying “Mom Mom my ears are popping, my ears are popping” I don’t know what to do for her. i just can’t take it. She is missing school or going in late due to her lack of sleep. We are also starting her on prozac in a couple days but wanted to wait due to the increase of clonidine. I hate putting her on meds but the doctors said prozac works really well for OCD.

    • Hi Julie, I’m so sorry your daughter (and you!) are having such a tough time. I’m not a therapist but the front line treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Ten years old is not too young to do this therapy, especially with an OCD expert who is experienced in working with children with OCD. Is the therapist she is seeing an expert on OCD and ERP? If not, I’d suggest checking out the IOCDF website for help in finding one, or you could email me. For my son, at least, medication was not the answer. Good luck and let me know if I can help you out at all.

    • WR381 says:

      I call it a brain “monster” too (well actually, a demon) and I’m 33. No matter how old we are, it’s safe to say that it does feel like a haunting or possession.

      • Thanks for sharing, WR381. I know a lot of OCD sufferers “name” their OCD, as it truly is separate from who they are. Hope you are doing well.

      • WR381 says:

        Thank you Janet.

        Doing a LOT better since coming off the Zoloft but WAS IT ROUGH!!! Paralyzing low mood, sleepwalking, and 2 episodes of confusion/disorientation out in public. I will admit that I proceeded in the wrong way and please let other knows that stopping an SSRI cold turkey can be quite dangerous. Naively, I thought I’d just have some vertigo/parasthesia and that would be it (this is what happened in the past when I jumped ship from one med to the other). Sleeping a little better now and feeling back to “normal”, currently on super low dose Luvox. Don’t want to discourage other patients, but if you/they are having any symptoms they think might be med related (fragmented sleep, exhaustion, GI problems), tell your doctor!

      • Wow, that sounds scary, and thank you for warning others about the dangers of coming off meds “cold turkey.” This is also part of my son’s story in my upcoming book. So glad you are doing so much better!

  25. Laura S says:

    I just wanted to share with this with any ocd sufferers who may use their computers late at night as a distraction tactic from intrusive thoughts, but who then find the exposure to blue light/electronics keeps them up. F.lux software tints and adjusts the glare from your computer according to the time of day. At night it filters down to an amber/red glow which is conducive to relaxation, melatonin production and ease of falling asleep. I installed it about a week ago and it’s really helping me to fall asleep more quickly after using my computer when I finally feel ‘safe’ enough to be alone with my own mind. The last thing one wants is actual physical wakefulness from the blue light of the screen having suppressed melatonin. It’s free too ! https://justgetflux.com/

  26. WR1981 says:

    The worst thing for me is what I call “Sleep OCD”, which developed about a year ago, I BELIEVE in response or reaction to the Celexa I was taking. I have been left with a profound sleep FEAR, one that makes me feel that if I sleep too long, I will never have the desire to wake up and enjoy life. I’m sleep deprived during the week, but on weekends (if I sleep >9 hours a night), I feel dizzy and drunk with a pounding headache and also feel mildly dysphoric. Right now, my OCD has me associating sleep with a loss of control and willpower. I look at it now as a necessary evil, but hate it. Celexa, among other meds, is horrible for sleep! Teeth grinding and fitful. SSRIs are notorious for destroying sleep architecture.

    • That sounds horrible, WR1981 and I am so sorry you have this problem. I’m guessing you’ve worked with your doctor to possibly find a better medication for you? I truly hope someone can help you with this issue……..you need good sleep! I wish you all the best.

      • WR381 says:

        Thanks Janet.

        I’m currently off all medications now for just over a month to see what my “baseline” is. It’s not been easy – feelings of physical exhaustion and lethargy and raw emotions. Still, I had gotten to a point where I could no longer stand how these drugs made me feel. Basically, I am done with SSRIs as they no longer help me, I have only side effects, and (frankly) there are no clinical data on what these drugs due to your brain and body when you’ve been on them for more than a decade. (In my case, it’s 15+ years.)

      • Hoping the weeks and months ahead are better for you!

  27. eks9713 says:

    For me, sleep serves as a haven from OCD, but also a bit as an enabler to my OCD. I have germ issues, lots of hand washing routines, and have trouble with using things other people have used – doorknobs, grocery carts, menus, etc. My bed has always felt a bit like my safe haven – when something, OCD or not, is bothering me, I often take a nap to escape it for a bit. So, in this sense, if I’m really obsessing over something, I can go lay down and escape. What I fell asleep obsessing over will generally be reduced to a minor thought by the time I wake up. However, while the respite is nice, it also can allow me to avoid dealing with the obsessive thoughts or the compulsions.

    I went through a period of depression on top of the OCD and sleeping to get away from things was a go-to coping mechanism. During this time I was job-hunting and unemployed (and living alone) so I wasn’t going out regularly and didn’t have the funds to go take trips, shop, etc. The combination of OCD and depression, with the lack of outside interaction, made my OCD the worst it had been. The more I didn’t go out and have to use things other people have touched on a regular basis, the more OCD crept in and worsened. Sleeping allowed me to escape the new obsessions/compulsions and not deal with them, which just further set the new problems in stone.

    Like I said, sometimes it’s good because I can get a break and wake up feeling somewhat refreshed, but I also have to be careful not to just use sleep to avoid dealing with OCD issues.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, and what you said about being isolated and not going out regularly really it home. My son’s OCD skyrocketed out of control his freshman year of college when he had a single dorm room……it was just him and his OCD – a recipe for disaster!

  28. Agu johnpaul says:

    I do sleep but there is a kind of compulsion that I will do,I will not be able to sleep at all or just a little bit thanks for sharing

  29. Anna says:

    I am desperate. My sister has OCD and she is waking up at 5:00pm or 6:00pm every day. We have told her doctors and they´ve changed her medication but it just doesn´t work. How did Dan get through over sleeping?? any ideas of what we can do or what could be the cause??

    • Hi Anna, I am sorry your sister is having such a rough time. I’m not a doctor or a therapist and I don’t know anything about your sister, so of course I don’t know what her sleeping problems stem from; it could be anything from depression to OCD to something physical or medication related. If she is not getting good treatment from her current doctors I would suggest searching for new health care providers who will help her figure it all out. I also don’t know if she is doing ERP therapy at all, but that is what she needs to beat the OCD. Good luck!

  30. Connie says:

    Hi Janet, I’m 12 and I think that I may have ocd, I have known this since I was 8 and my school had some people come a talk to us about mental health. I have very weird patterns that I have to follow and ritauls that if I don’t do … Well not doing them isn’t an option. I have tried many times to talk to my Mum about it but she just laughs it off and thinks I’m being a hypochondriac. I have had trouble sleeping ever since I started developing my urges, I wake up really early and have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I don’t know what to do! Please if you could write back to me or something ( I’m not really sure how this works ) it would be great to get your advice. Thanks – connie
    P.S it was a really helpful artical.

    • Hi Connie, Thanks for reaching out! I’m sorry you haven’t been able to get your Mum to understand what you are going through. Maybe if you show her what you wrote to me, or maybe if you show her the IOCDF web site (https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/) which explains OCD in detail, that will help. If this doesn’t help, I would suggest talking with someone else who you really trust; perhaps a teacher or school counselor, clergy, or another relative or close friend who is an adult, and they can reach out to your mum as well. Don’t give up! Remember that obsessive-compulsive disorder is treatable, and I have no doubt that with the right treatment, you can learn how to deal with it and live a happy, wonderful life. The first step is to get a proper diagnosis and then ERP therapy. I wish you all the best and please keep me posted!

    • Laura says:

      Hi Connie,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles. I was diagnosed at 8, but I can remember having OCD type thought patterns/rituals from about the age of 4 (or basically my whole conscious life). Please have a look at this useful guide for young people from the UK based OCD awareness charity (ocduk.org). There is advice and information about OCD there, as well as information and tips on how to ask for help and explain your symptoms to your mother/family. You should show these to her as well so she gets a clearer understanding of what you have been struggling with.

      Click to access young-peoples-booklet.pdf

      Click to access childrens-booklet.pdf

      I’m not sure which one of those booklets is clearer for you, but both contain some great explanations of the disorder, and should help your mother understand your struggles better.
      This can be beaten with the right treatment. I really encourage you to get help now, and claim the life you want to have. Untreated, OCD has a tendency to snowball and get more all-encompassing. Ask your mom to help you get properly assessed by your doctor, (they will ask you some questions about your rituals and anxieties, and you should try an be as honest as possible, despite it being embarrassing to talk about) who will most likely refer you to a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist.
      You can also ask about a treatment called MCT (meta-cognitive therapy) or an older treatment called ERP (exposure-response prevention therapy). All of these are designed to help you make these intrusive thoughts or doubts and compulsions /rituals less important and less of a priority. As you begin to be able to do this, they start to decrease in number and take up less time/ cause less distress. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

      This is not something that’s wrong with you as a person, or a weakness in your personality. These symptoms just a result function of part of your brain that tends to get stuck on moving form one task to the next (scientists have even watched this happen using MRI technology in the brains of people with ocd), and as a result this ‘stuck feeling’ generates anxiety and these ritualistic behaviours you’ve spoken about. It’s common in highly intelligent , sensitive, and creative people. It does not make you a bad person or ‘crazy’. But we do suffer as a result and the ideal situation is to be able to rise above the anxiety of not doing your compulsions, and just get on with your life! “get out of your head and into your life” is the motto a lot of therapists use.
      Please get help now, don’t wait.

      Good luck.

    • Laura says:

      Hi Connie,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles. I was diagnosed at 8, but I can remember having OCD type thought patterns/rituals from about the age of 4 (or basically my whole conscious life). Please have a look at this useful guide for young people from the UK based OCD awareness charity (ocduk.org). There is advice and information about OCD there, as well as information and tips on how to ask for help and explain your symptoms to your mother/family. You should show these to her as well so she gets a clearer understanding of what you have been struggling with.

      Click to access young-peoples-booklet.pdf

      Click to access childrens-booklet.pdf

      I’m not sure which one of those booklets is clearer for you, but both contain some great explanations of the disorder, and should help your mother understand your struggles better.
      This can be beaten with the right treatment. I really encourage you to get help now, and claim the life you want to have. Untreated, OCD has a tendency to snowball and get more all-encompassing. Ask your mom to help you get properly assessed by your doctor, (they will ask you some questions about your rituals and anxieties, and you should try to be as honest as possible, despite it being embarrassing to talk about) who will most likely refer you to a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist.
      You can also ask about a treatment called MCT (meta-cognitive therapy) or a treatment called ERP (exposure-response prevention therapy). All of these are designed to effectively help you make these intrusive thoughts or doubts and compulsions /rituals less important and less of a priority. As you begin to be able to do this, they start to decrease in number and take up less time/ cause less distress. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

      This is not something that’s wrong with you as a person, or a weakness in your personality. These symptoms just a result of an unusual functioning of part of your brain that tends to get stuck when moving from one task to the next (scientists have even watched this happen using MRI technology in the brains of people with ocd), and as a result this ‘stuck feeling’ generates anxiety and these ritualistic behaviours you’ve spoken about. It’s common in highly intelligent , sensitive, and creative people. It does not make you a bad person or ‘crazy’. But we do suffer as a result and the ideal situation is to be able to rise above the anxiety of not doing your compulsions, and just get on with your life! “get out of your head and into your life” is the motto a lot of therapists use.
      Please get help now, don’t wait.

      Good luck.

      • Hi Laura, Thanks so much for your very helpful comment. We are all rooting for Connie! I’m not familiar with MCT but I do know ERP therapy is the evidence-based therapy recommended by the American Psychological Association. Thanks again for all the resources listed!

      • Laura says:

        Hi Janet.
        I just saw your comment now as I posted. Sorry to have mostly repeated what you told Connie 🙂 Hopefully she can use all the info in some way that is of use. Yes I agree ERP is the gold standard (and extremely effective).
        MCT (meta-cognitive therapy) is something that’s been slowly introduced in the UK as an alternative or additional approach to ERP (there are elements of ERP in it as well) over the past 10-15 years or so (an extension of Acceptance/Commitment therapy ACT) developed by a clinician called Andre Wells. It’s showing some promising results with lower relapse incidence than ERP initial trials and I’m currently undergoing a course of MCT treatment now and finding it very helpful – particularly for pure O/ internal compulsions (which ERP can sometimes be tricky to apply to). I think ERP is extremely effective but maybe good to know about other approaches too. Here is some literature in case you’re interested.

        Click to access Simons%20et%20al._Metacognitive%20Therapy%20vs.%20Exposure.pdf

        Really hoping Connie gets the help she needs. And thanks again for your resource Janet, it’s been very helpful to me too. Best Wishes

      • Hi Laura,
        Thanks for the info on MCT. I will definitely look into it, and am glad you are finding it helpful. And I’m glad you replied to Connie. I’m sure it will be helpful for her to know she has a lot of support!

  31. Mary says:

    A lot of good information on OCD but I need to know more about this condition. I have a 14 year old son that has a unhealthy routine and is not getting but 3-4 hours of sleep on a school night, making nose and waking me up at 2am makes me kinda upset. I told him that he needs to get himself on a better routine and he said he can’t. Is it true that he can’t because of the OCD or is this a excuse? I know he has things he wants and needs to do and I have ask him to do them earlier instead of starting so late in the evening to do so. Please help me to understand OCD better than what I do, thanks!

    • Hi Mary, Thanks for commenting and I’m sorry things have been so difficult for you and your son. When your son tells you he can’t do something because of his OCD, he is telling you the truth. OCD, left untreated, can take over a person’s life.Your son is like a prisoner. As you say, you need more information about the disorder and the IOCDF website (link under my resource section of my blog) is a good place to start. I think you’d also find my book helpful and there are many resources listed in it as well.
      The only good news about OCD is that it is treatable with ERP therapy (lots of info on my blog about this therapy).You need to find a competent therapist for your son so he can learn how to fight his OCD and not let it control his (and your!) life. He can get better. Good luck and keep me posted!

  32. Martha says:

    As an OCD person I can tell you that sleep during crisis time is almost impossible and the body will be exausted but the mind will keep driving you crazy!

  33. Paul says:

    Very good article. Yes, it is so hard to get to sleep if you are batting OCD…..well if it’s more serious OCD. When my OCD was at its worst, it took so long to get to sleep for the reasons you mentioned (such as reviewing the entire in your head). I know what this is like. Now that my OCD is only mild, I have no sleeping problems, but yes, sleep can be severely hindered by OCD. I would love to hear from you at http://www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com as I have my own site at http://www.ocdbloggers.net and would love to share some ideas with you. Thank you.

  34. Elizabeth says:

    It’s so comforting to read this blog. It is always nice to feel like you are not alone. I had trouble obsessing about falling asleep when I was a child. After being diagnosed at 22 and starting SSRIs, sleep really hadn’t been an issue since. I actually really enjoyed going to bed and taking naps. Recently I took what was supposed to be an amazing trip to Europe. Although amazing, the awful side effect has been a resurgence of my obsession about falling asleep. The time change threw my body clock off and my OCD couldn’t accept it. For two weeks now I feel like I can’t sleep. It is so frustrating to go from loving sleep to fearing that I can’t achieve it. I appreciate all the tips here. . . my therapist has said that I need to retrain myself and should stay in bed and focus on something like my breathing or the feel of my body in the bed. I have also tried counting backwards or repeating a loving meditation. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like anything has helped much yet. I have been taking some sleeping aids and usually they have helped me fall asleep for a few hours. But even that hasn’t always worked. Thank you all for the suggestions and sharing. Please keep them coming. It is so sad to think of my life continuing as being fearful of not falling asleep and thus, making it nearly impossible for me to do so. I feel that it makes it much harder for me to be a good mother, wife, friend, and teacher (my profession). Stay strong fellow OCD-ers!

    • Hi Elizabeth, Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. You have so many good tools in your toolbox that I can’t help believing your sleep issues now are just a “blip” and only temporary. Please keep in touch and let us know how you are doing!

  35. kat says:

    I sleep late all the time because I had to keep checking my alarm clock if I really had set it up.. I had to keep checking the stove if it’s off.. I had to check my text messages reading through conversations, contemplating if I had said it wrong, was I cocky or something. I have to check a lot of things before I’m ready to get to bed.

    • Thank you for sharing, Kat, and I’m sorry you have a hard time with sleep because of all your checking. Have you gone through treatment for your OCD? Exposure and response prevention therapy can give you your life back! Wishing you all the best.

  36. Nil says:


    Can you suggest any effective medicine available in pakistan to get into sleep for OCD patients?

  37. Alex says:

    May this information will be useful.

    Lack of sleep leads to desensitization of serotonin receptors. At least for rats 🙂


    “Rats were subjected to a schedule of restricted sleep allowing them 4 hours of sleep per day.

    After 2 days of restricted sleep, the sensitivity of the (5-HT)1A receptor system was not yet affected; however, after 8 days of sleep restriction, it was desensitized

    Importantly, the desensitization of the (5-HT)1A system persisted for many days even with unlimited recovery sleep. Normalization occurred gradually but required at least 7 days.

    CONCLUSIONS: Chronic sleep restriction causes a gradual and persistent desensitization of the (5-HT)1A receptor system. This finding provides a link between chronic sleep loss and sensitivity for disorders that are associated with altered serotonergic neurotransmission.”

  38. Heather Wright says:

    I read the Bhagavad-Gita which has a way of taking your mind and focusing it on the bigger picture. Also have invested in a lovely bicycle and have found that long rides before bed wears me down to collapse on my bed and passing out… No time to think when your physically tired. 🙂 and

  39. Bill Collins says:

    Hi, my name is Bill, I have been diagnosed with moderate to severe ocd. I am a checker and I cannot imagine how much time I have spent going over and over the same thing to make sure it’s ok. I have gone for help and have been on meds but nothing really helping. Three years ago I lost my wife to cancer and this has really sent me into a depression. I cannot cope with her loss and how to move on with out her. I have not been on any treatment or seeing a Dr for my OCD since she had died. Also my OCD has seemed to have gotten worse I am consumed all day with my routines just to get through each day. I come home from work and I often have to lay down and try to sleep because I am exhausted. Not from working but mentally exhausted. I wake up tired like I did not sleep even though I went to bed early. I feel tired all day long, I went to the dr to get a blood test to see if something is wrong. I am wondering if my OCD is now affecting my sleep with my mind always going over and over what in the day that bothered me. I am hoping to find a Dr who can help me with all this. I think the OCD and the depression from the loss of my wife have really taken a toll on me and is now affecting my health. I have been fighting this all alone and I am losing the battle, I think it’s time for some help. Thx for listening Bill

    • Hi Bill, Thank you so much for writing, and please accept my heartfelt condolences on the loss of your wife. It sounds as if you have been through a great deal and have suffered for a very long time. Please know that OCD is absolutely treatable, as is depression. For OCD, you need a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who specializes in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the front-line treatment for OCD. You can read through my blog for a lot more info, and also check out the IOCDF website which has a wealth of information including tips for finding a good therapist. There is so much hope for you – you absolutely can get your life back. Good luck as you move forward and please keep in touch.

  40. If you sub ‘bipolar’ for ‘OCD’ then I could have written this post!

  41. Bobby Mills says:

    I haven’t been in a sleeping pattern for about five years and I’ve had no friends in three years and I can’t work because of ocd. Ocd has me doing crazy stuff everyday so I’m to embarrassed to make a friend. I’m like a lonely caveman wasting away. I’m on medication to help me sleep but they don’t help as much as I would like. I’m mentally strong because of it but it’s taken away to much of me. I can’t have any technology which is one of the things my ocd does so no Facebook or TV or mobile because I constantly factory reset or clean it to the point of selling the stuff.

    • Hi Bobby, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been suffering so much with your OCD. I don’t know if you’ve ever pursued ERP therapy but it is the evidence-based therapy for OCD and when done correctly, it works. So many people have taken their lives back from OCD. I hope you will look into this option, as OCD is treatable. Wishing you all the best.

  42. Sarah says:

    My entire ocd is essentially focused on sleep and insomnia. I am terrified of sleep, I hate that feeling of falling asleep, and the more tired I am the more petrified I become. This has impacted my life so badly I am starting to feel suicidal. I’m 29 years old and I can’t sleep away from my childhood home. I cannot travel, I can’t sleep at my boyfriends, he can’t sleep here, and I can’t move out. I literally have not traveled in over a decade, nor have I ever lived away from childhood home. My sleep schedule has shifted so late that I can’t fall asleep til noon, it takes me hours to fall asleep, and I wake up every hour. Therefore most of my life is spent in bed trying to just rest. I can’t work anymore because the pressure of having to sleep overwhelms me and I wind up sick with exhaustion after days of no sleep. I can’t get help because I can’t wake up early enough to go and see anyone, and I couldn’t stay in an overnight facility because I wouldn’t sleep. Medication scares me because it can cause insomnia, and I’m afraid of anything that makes me feel tired as I’m terrified of being forced to sleep. As of right now I can’t even look forward to any type of events (birthdays, holidays, concerts, etc), because I know I will just spend the days before worrying about sleep and either missing the event because I’m in bed having an anxiety attack after not being able to sleep, or I will get an hour of sleep and go to the event feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I need help, but there is no help for someone who is as unfunctional as I am, I call crisis lines and they pretty much just confirm how screwed I am. I’m completely resentful of others who have mental illness who have travelled or moved out, or who can just sleep without feeling so horribly afraid every time.

    • Hi Sarah, I am so sorry you are dealing with such severe OCD and sleep issues. It truly sounds horrible. I will not go as far as saying there is no hope or help for you as I believe there is. If you truly want to get well, you have to connect with an OCD specialist who will come to your home, or perhaps a residential treatment program or partial hospitalization program. Hopefully you have some people in your life who act as a support system and can advocate for you. Please pursue some help – you deserve to have a better life.

    • Ahmed Ghrib says:

      Hey, I hope you read this. Yes, the insomnia can create a vicious cycle of anxiety:
      You wake-up in the morning after a bout of insomnia => You worry that you won’t sleep the next night => This worrying itself will cause another bout of insomnia and so on and so forth. The good news is you can use i-CBT(insomnia CBT) to break this cycle. A little trick that I have used is I tell myself: ” Well, it’s okay if I haven’t slept enough, I will still be able to go through the day and function more or less properly. And besides, if I didn’t sleep enough, it means that I will be more tired tonight and my chances of sleeping will be even better than the night before”. It’s like tricking insomnia to kill itself! I hope this helped 🙂

  43. God Created says:

    Because once a person didn’t eat well, the person can not sleep well. eating well and you will think correctly.

    • I agree a good diet is necessary for good health!

      • God Created says:

        I am checking for a friend of mine. She has a breakthrough by eating well and all those intrusive thoughts like not able to sleep is overcame. Btw, when a person is ‘fearful of not being able to sleep’ doesn’t mean they have OCD. That’s my friend encounters when she seek for counseling. The counselor told her it is anxiety instead of OCD

      • Yes, that’s a good point that the fear of not being able to sleep might or might not be related to OCD. I wish your friend all the best.

  44. God Created says:

    That’s her breakthrough, Eat well – no intrusive thoughts – Calm anxiety – Sleep Well!

  45. God Created says:

    My friend is a living testimony. Please do not be deceived by all the medication and stuffs.. It is definitely not related to OCD.

    • God Created says:

      oh,.. to add on.. Her health improved by eating well and even when she has anxiety, she still fall asleep fast and sleep like a pig. So don’t take diet lightly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s