Sleep and OCD: How to Win The Battle for Better Sleep
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.
Practice good sleep hygiene
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.
Create a headspace for sleep
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.
Don’t give in to sleep-stealing compulsions
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.
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Try meditation and mindfulness
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!
Herbal remedies and supplements
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.
Take it one step at a time
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.
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If you are suffering from OCD and you think you need help, please contact NOCD to schedule a free call today. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. Let NOCD show you how ERP therapy has proven effective in 80% of patients.
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Licensed Therapist, MA
I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.
Licensed Therapist, LCMHC
When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.
Licensed Therapist, MA
I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.