OCD and Sleep

SleepingThis post was written in December 2012:

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 people with OCD have sleep issues. I know when my son 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 his obsessive-compulsive disorder, he was also 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.


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6 Responses to OCD and Sleep

  1. This is very interesting. It’s almost like a cycle: anxiety/ocd keeps you up, become very tired the next day, symptoms worsen (causing more anxiety). For me, the intrusive thought that kept me up would be worrying about the death of my parents. I’d repeat “they will not die” and variations of that phrase for hours when I went to bed, and as a result be exhausted and miserable. And with my depression, all I wanted to do was sleep, but couldn’t out of fear. It’s very tricky.

  2. Anne says:

    Janet – I love this post. For my daughter, her difficulties with sleep and OCD have always been completely intertwined. We have been working hard (through ERP) to address both the sleep and OCD issues. Sleep has gotten so much better recently which in turn has resulted in better ability to cope with the OCD.

    • Hi Anne, Thanks for sharing and I’m so glad to hear things are improving for your daughter. Getting adequate sleep is so important in coping with just about anything, I think!

  3. Nicola says:

    That would have been very difficult to cope with looking after your son while he couldn’t sleep, and managing your own sleep deprivation. I agree that OCD can affect sleep, and then I also think sleep deprivation can make OCD symptoms worse too. When I had my first son, the broken sleep definitely took its toll and I started feeling v anxious and also started getting new obsessions I hadn’t had before – exactly what you want to deal with when you have a baby, right? 😉 Luckily had a great psychologist who really helped.

    Sounds like you and Dan came up with some good solutions. All sleep is a success! Glad he is sleeping better now. Thanks for your blog!

    • Hi Nicola, Thanks for sharing and I’m so glad you had a great psychologist to help you…as you know, that is not always the case. I love your comment, “All sleep is a success.” 🙂 So true!!

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