Most people experience sleepless nights every once in a while. However, research has shown that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have higher-than-normal rates of insomnia. These issues are shown to be caused by obsessive thoughts, which can keep people up all night, trapped in their thoughts. It’s a miserable cycle, and it can be hard to know where to start to improve your restless nights.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to rectifying sleep issues when it comes to OCD, and people should speak with their doctors or OCD therapists to find the best solutions when applicable. However, if you’re looking for ways to improve your sleep quality, here are a few of our best tips for those with OCD.
One of the first steps in getting a better night’s sleep while navigating OCD is practicing good sleep hygiene. We don’t mean brushing your teeth or washing your face — though these are important rituals too.
Sleep hygiene refers to the patterns you build around your sleep habits. For example, it’s important to try to go to bed and wake up at around the same times on a regular basis. You can do this using an alarm, or you can use a daylight lamp, which may be a gentler way to signal the body that it’s time to sleep or wake.
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Make sure that you have a designated area just for sleeping. It sounds obvious — of course our beds are meant for sleeping! But many of us, those with OCD and those without, often find ourselves perusing Instagram or Facebook before bed, checking notifications or doing some late-night online shopping to distract ourselves. For someone with OCD, these behaviors can also trigger obsessive thoughts or cycles.
It may be a nice momentary distraction, but unfortunately, these activities signal your brain to be more alert than it needs to be. This means it can take even longer for you to fall asleep after you’re done scrolling. Make sure you’re limiting your screen time before bed to help send the right signals to your brain, and try to keep your sleep space dedicated just for sleep.
During the day, it can also be tempting to work from bed, but that can often lead to you being tired during work (because your brain is used to sleeping in that environment) or doing the opposite — keeping you up at night because you’re trying to rest in your “work” environment.
Try not to give in to compulsions during your designated sleep time, because it can become self-defeating. For example, if you feel the urge to get up and do something in your house, resist the urge to do so.
Meditation has been shown to have a number of benefits for everyone, especially people dealing with OCD, anxiety and depression. One study examined the use of mindfulness and meditation versus the use of distraction in 30 patients with OCD. Those who used mindfulness skills felt less compelled to give in to their compulsions to neutralize them, and those who used only distraction strategies saw no change.
There are lots of ways to meditate and countless free resources you can use to help you get started with mindfulness techniques. As with anything, meditation can take some practice. You may benefit from starting with just a few minutes at a time and working your way up to longer sessions. Build this time into your nightly sleep hygiene routine!
As with any supplement or herbal remedy, it’s important to check with your doctor to ensure that it won’t interfere with any medications you’re taking or treatments you’re using. However, many people with OCD may find melatonin and valerian root beneficial for sleeplessness. You can find melatonin or valerian supplements at most pharmacies or health stores, and you can also drink various herbal teas to promote relaxation, including chamomile, valerian, lavender and more.
As with any journey toward improved health, your path to a peaceful night’s sleep might take some trial and error. Be patient with yourself, consult with your physician or therapist, and take each win as a victory. OCD can make your nights unbearable, but you can claim your sleep back. All it takes is a little practice and finding the right techniques for you.
If you are suffering from OCD and you think you need help please contact NOCD to schedule a free 15 minute info session. Let NOCD show you how ERP therapy has proven effective in 80% of patients.
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