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Sleep and OCD

By Zainab Husain


Have you ever spent all of your night tossing and turning on your bed? Knowing this lack of sleep will affect your day tomorrow? Have you been so tired that you just want to doze off, but the racing thoughts kept on interfering? Sleep – one of the most important physiological functions, is just as important as a healthy diet and exercising yet some of us are barely able to get a good night’s sleep. Falling short on a good night’s sleep can take a serious toll on one’s daytime energy, productivity, and emotional intelligence yet many of us regularly toss and turn at night, struggling to get the sleep we need.


Sleep disturbance is a common complaint of people diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and other psychological disorders. Research has shown that people suffering from OCD have higher than normal rates of insomnia as well as other sleep issues like delayed sleep phase disorder. These issues are mostly caused by obsessive thoughts, which keep victims up all night, trapped in their thoughts. OCD, by its nature, is quite unfavorable to a good night’s sleep. When your brain is making you remember all the things that went wrong or is trying to deduce what could go wrong in the near future and when all you can think about is if you have turned the stove off, how can one imagine getting a good night’s sleep?

For those with OCD, it’s just a vicious cycle. You can’t get a good sleep because of the anxiety, and the lack of sleep further intensifies the anxiety.


Bedtime is one of the loneliest times of the day. When you are alone, you have nobody to pull you back into reality. Your anxiety can take complete control of your mind. One epidemiological study [1] found that “insomnia appeared before the anxiety disorder in 18% of cases, anxiety and insomnia appeared around the same time in 38.6% of cases, and anxiety appeared before insomnia in 43.5% of cases.” With those numbers, it’s clear that anxiety can lead to insomnia and in some cases, insomnia may be implicated in the development of anxiety.


In a UC Berkeley study [2] , neuroscientists found that OCD was one of the three most likely anxiety disorders to be associated with sleep disturbance, most commonly with insomnia. Both obsessions and compulsions can keep people from falling asleep at a reasonable hour which can lead to insomnia.


Both the quantity and timing of sleep can be major factors in increased anxiety. One study found that individuals diagnosed with OCD who had a delayed bedtime (defined as around 3 a.m. in this case) had less perceived control over their symptoms the next day. These studies represent strong evidence that sleep disturbance is not merely a symptom of anxiety, but something that can contribute to it, and is, therefore, especially important to manage for people with OCD.


But now the more important question: How to get better sleep when you suffer from OCD:


Firstly, understand that to curb your anxiety, a good night's sleep should be your top priority- not your work, not that book you’ve been wanting to finish, not that Netflix show you want to binge. Do everything you can to go to bed on time.


Follow good sleeping tips like

 Avoid caffeine afternoon onwards

 Sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

 Keep a margin of maximum one hour if you wish to sleep late or wake up late on weekends

 If you are unable to sleep once in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up. Do something

relaxing – like have a soothing tea, a cup of warm milk, or get yourself a massage if possible.

 Meditate before sleeping. Do some bed-time yoga.

 Sleep in a dark environment. Any light, no matter how little affects your sleep. Try to switch

off all lights if possible.

 Try noise cancelling headphones and some soothing music if it helps.

 Try to limit brain stimulating acts before sleeping.

 Limit screen time before bed. Try to avoid it altogether.

 Keep your room temperature low and comfortable.

 Wear good comfortable clothes.


OCD affects sleep patterns; and a disturbed sleep pattern worsens your OCD. So, understand that it is important to treat both together. Realize you are not alone. Ask for help. Talk to people. Give yourself and your mental health priority at all times. Go to a counselor. Repeat after me – you do not need to suffer in silence. There are people all over the world who will be there for you. You deserve the help. You deserve it all. You are not a burden on anyone. Get help! Talk. Do not stay silent.




Footnotes –

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181635/

https://news.berkeley.edu/2018/11/06/chronically-anxious/

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