Sleep And Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi holds an academic position at Northumbria University. After completing her Ph.D. at Northeastern University (Boston, MA), she joined the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School as a post-doctoral fellow to research how sleep and circadian rhythmicity influence our cognitive functioning.

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Last Updated On November 6th, 2023
Sleep And Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Key Takeaways

  • OCD and Sleep Interplay: OCD can significantly disrupt sleep patterns. Intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, and anxiety associated with OCD can make it difficult for individuals to fall asleep, stay asleep, or have restful sleep. This interplay can create a cycle where poor sleep exacerbates OCD symptoms.
  • Treatment Options: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for both OCD and sleep disturbances. CBT helps individuals recognize negative thought patterns and behaviors, gradually exposing them to anxiety-inducing situations. Lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, and creating a conducive sleep environment can also help manage OCD-related sleep issues.
  • Comorbidities and Support: OCD often co-occurs with other conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, and PTSD, all of which can further impact sleep. Understanding the potential comorbidities can guide treatment approaches. Seeking professional help, joining support groups, and practicing self-care are essential steps in managing OCD, other conditions, and related sleep problems.

Sleep is a vital part of life. Without it, our physical and mental health can suffer. Unfortunately, individuals who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often find themselves in a battle to get enough restful sleep each night filled with sleep disturbance. This article will explore the relationship between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and sleep, highlighting the struggles those affected by these sleep disorders face when trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

The impact of OCD on sleep is far-reaching and can leave people feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. The constant intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors associated with OCD can interfere with an individual’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Furthermore, the anxiety disorders caused by these obsessive thoughts can lead to insomnia, which seriously affects physical and emotional well-being.

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For those dealing with OCD, getting adequate restorative sleep is essential for their mental health. However, understanding how to combat the effects of anxiety on their sleeping patterns is not always easy, leaving many feeling helpless and alone in their struggle against this debilitating disorder. Fortunately, there are strategies available that can help those affected by OCD to reclaim their right to peaceful slumber every night.

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Do you ever find yourself in a mental loop, repeating the same tasks and thoughts repeatedly? If so, you may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source . OCD is an anxiety disorder that can cause extreme distress, affecting your relationships, work life, and sleep.

When someone has OCD, they experience intrusive thoughts or images that lead them to engage in repetitive behaviors to relieve stress. This could mean anything from counting items on a counter multiple times to washing their hands excessively. It’s important to recognize these signs of OCD as soon as possible because it can interfere with daily functioning if left unchecked.

If you’re struggling with OCD-related insomnia, it may be a sign that your OCD symptoms are worsening. It’s important to talk to a professional about how best to manage your condition so that it doesn’t interfere with your quality of life. With the right treatment plan and lifestyle changes, you can take back control of your mental health and reclaim restful nights of sleep.

Causes of OCD

There is no one easy thing to point to when it comes to determining why some people develop OCD. But research suggests Verified Source Johns Hopkins Medicine University focused on medical research that produces thoroughly reviewed health articles. View source that it may be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors.

Genetics: There is evidence to suggest that OCD may run in families and that certain genetic mutations or variations may increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder. However, no specific genes have been identified as the sole cause of OCD.

Environmental factors: Trauma or stressful life events may trigger or exacerbate symptoms of OCD in some people. In some cases, a person may develop OCD after experiencing a traumatic event such as abuse or illness.

Neurobiological factors: Abnormalities in brain structure and function, particularly in the frontal-subcortical circuits, have been identified in people with OCD. These circuits play a role in regulating emotions and behaviors, and dysfunction in these circuits may contribute to the development of OCD symptoms.

Additionally, OCD is thought to be related to imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin and dopamine, which are involved in regulating mood, anxiety, and behavior. Research has Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source also suggested that infections and inflammation may play a role in the development of OCD in some people.

It’s important to note that while these factors may increase a person’s risk of developing OCD, they do not necessarily mean that someone will develop the disorder. OCD is a complex disorder that involves multiple factors, and more research is needed to fully understand its causes.

Symptoms of OCD and Impact on Sleep

When it comes to sleep and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it can be a tricky combination. OCD affects everyone differently, and for some, it can impact their sleep quality. So, how does OCD affect our slumber?

First, let’s take a look at the symptoms of OCD. People with OCD may experience intrusive thoughts Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source or images that are difficult to control and cause anxiety. This anxiety can lead to uncontrollable rituals and take up large amounts of time which could otherwise be spent sleeping. Additionally, being in a constant state of stress can make it hard to switch off the mind and relax before drifting off to sleep, further impacting one’s sleep schedule.

Another factor is the type of thoughts or images associated with OCD. Many people with OCD experience distressing thoughts or images that can be hard to shake off before bedtime. These intrusive thoughts often center around themes such as contamination or harm, making it difficult to drift off to dreamland without worrying about these topics first.

These factors combined mean that getting enough restful sleep when you have OCD isn’t always easy, but luckily, there are ways to manage this problem and get better quality sleep over time. Those with OCD need to find strategies that work for them to reduce stress levels and prepare for sleep more effectively each night. With the proper techniques in place, improved restful sleep is possible.

With the proper support from medical professionals and family/friends, it is possible to manage the severe OCD symptoms and reduce the toll it takes on your sleep. Through therapy, lifestyle changes such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and medication if necessary, those living with OCD can improve their overall quality of life – including getting better sleep each night.

Circadian Rhythms and OCD

Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that occur in approximately 24-hour intervals, and are influenced by external cues like daylight and darkness. They regulate various bodily functions such as sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, and metabolism.

One way in which OCD can disrupt circadian rhythms is through sleep disturbances. As we’ve noted, many people with OCD experience sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up frequently during the night. These sleep disturbances can lead to an irregular sleep-wake cycle, which can throw off the timing of circadian rhythms.

Additionally, some people with OCD may engage in compulsive behaviors that interfere with sleep, such as checking rituals that may keep them up late at night. These behaviors can further disrupt sleep-wake cycles and may affect the timing of other circadian rhythms.

Furthermore, the stress and anxiety associated with OCD can also impact circadian rhythms. Chronic stress can alter the timing of various biological rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle, and can also suppress the release of certain hormones that are important for regulating circadian rhythms.

While the relationship between OCD and circadian rhythms is still being studied, there is evidence that people with OCD are more likely to have Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD or DSPD).

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder or Syndrome is a sleep disorder in which a person’s circadian rhythm is delayed compared to the typical sleep-wake cycle. This means that individuals with DSPD tend to have a later-than-normal bedtime and wake-up time, and they may struggle to fall asleep or wake up at a desired time.

People with DSPD Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source often have difficulty falling asleep before 2 to 3 a.m. and may need to sleep until late morning or early afternoon to feel rested. This can cause significant problems in their daily life, especially if they have a job or school schedule that requires them to wake up early in the morning. People with DSPD may feel constantly tired, have difficulty concentrating, and experience decreased productivity and performance.

Potential Comorbidities

OCD can be comorbid with various other conditions that may impact sleep. Comorbidity refers to the presence of two or more medical or psychological conditions occurring in the same individual simultaneously. Some prominent examples include the following.

Anxiety Disorders

OCD often co-occurs with other anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder. It’s actually the second most common comorbidity, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source after mood disorders. Anxiety can lead to racing thoughts and heightened arousal, making it challenging to fall asleep or maintain restful sleep.


Many individuals with OCD also experience depression. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source

Symptoms of depression, such as persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and feelings of hopelessness, can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness).

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is sometimes Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source comorbid with OCD. Individuals with ADHD Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source may have difficulty with impulse control and maintaining focus, which can lead to difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep.

See also ADHD and Sleep Problems: A Comprehensive Guide

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Some individuals with OCD have experienced traumatic events, and PTSD can co-occur with OCD. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source Nightmares and flashbacks associated with PTSD can lead to sleep disturbances.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Sleep

Suppose you’re struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and its impact on your sleep. In that case, it’s important to know that help is available. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) Verified Source American Psychological Association (APA) Collaborative organization for psychologists across the country. View source may be the key to improving your quality of rest.

CBT is an evidence-based approach to treating OCD and other mental health conditions. It involves a combination of talking therapy and practical problem-solving techniques. This process helps individuals identify negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with OCD, then work towards changing them. It also involves gradually exposing a person to anxiety-inducing situations to help them better manage their responses.

Regarding sleep, cognitive behavioral therapy can help people learn how to create healthy habits around bedtime. This could include avoiding certain activities before bed or limiting screen time and blue light exposure before sleeping.

Additionally, this therapy can help individuals understand how their thoughts and feelings affect their behavior when it comes to sleep disorders. This recognition allows them to recognize triggers that may keep them up at night and find ways to manage them more effectively.

It’s worth noting that finding the right therapist is essential for successful treatment outcomes so don’t hesitate to ask questions about experience, qualifications, and specialties before committing. With the right care plan in place, you can feel empowered to regain control of your sleeping habits and live a life free from the clutches of OCD.

Other Treatment Options for OCD and Sleep

When it comes to treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and improving sleep, there are many options available. We can find a solution that works for us, from medications to lifestyle changes.

The favorite option as mentioned above is psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found to be successful in reducing symptoms of OCD, particularly when combined with exposure therapy and response prevention. CBT helps us become more aware of our thoughts and behaviors to learn how to manage them better. It also teaches us coping skills that can help us manage stress, which is often a factor in OCD and sleep disturbances.

Another option is relaxation techniques. These practices can help reduce stress levels, improve focus, and promote better quality sleep. They may also help us get better control over our worries and intrusive thoughts associated with OCD.

Additionally, they may provide a sense of community; connecting with others who understand what we are going through can be incredibly helpful in our journey toward improved health and well-being.

These are just two approaches available for addressing OCD and sleep issues. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different people respond differently to different treatments so it is important to explore your options before committing to any one course of action. With patience and perseverance, you can find a treatment plan to help you get better restful nights and improve mental health outcomes.

Coping Strategies for OCD and Sleep

It’s common for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to struggle with sleep. It can be challenging to balance managing the intrusive thoughts and worries of OCD while also getting the restful sleep your body needs. If you’re looking for ways to cope with both OCD and rest issues, then this article is here to help.

First, it’s important to take a look at your lifestyle habits. Are you maintaining healthy eating habits? Are you getting enough regular exercise during the day? Are you avoiding caffeine too close to bedtime?

Making sure that your daily routine supports your overall health can significantly affect how well you sleep at night. Consider practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises before bedtime.

In addition, it’s essential to create an environment conducive to a good night’s sleep. Without the right sleeping environment, it’s all too easy for sleep to elude you.

Ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet and the temperature is comfortable for sleeping. It should also block out noise well, as sudden noises may jolt you out of a good night’s sleep. Here are a number of bedroom-style guides to help you focus on individual points for improvement:

A clutter-free bedroom is especially important, as hoarding is often linked to OCD, though it’s not the only condition that is tied to hoarding. And hoarding can also affect sleep, too.

Aside from having the right environment, the right routine is also important. Establishing a regular bedtime and wake-up time can also help set your body’s internal clock so that it knows when it’s time for rest.

An evening routine can be simple, including not just you putting on your sleepwear and brushing your teeth, but relaxing activities like a warm bath or a few chapters in a favorite book.

Finally, if necessary, talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements that could help improve your ability to relax and fall asleep more easily. By taking these simple steps and making some small lifestyle changes, you can get better sleep each night – all while managing the symptoms of OCD more effectively.

Living with OCD Symptoms and Sleep Issues

Living with OCD and sleep issues can be a challenging experience. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, yet it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many people successfully manage their symptoms through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other treatments.

By addressing the underlying cause of OCD and sleep issues, you can develop positive coping strategies that will help you manage your symptoms on an ongoing basis. This might include making small lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress and creating consistent rituals around sleep hygiene.

It’s also important to reach out for support when needed. Talking to a trusted friend or family member, joining an online support group, or seeing a therapist are all great ways to find understanding and connection during this challenging time. With dedication, self-care, and support from others, you, too, can learn how to live with OCD and healthy sleep issues.


Can lack of sleep worsen OCD?

According to the findings of a study that was conducted in 2017, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source people with OCD who do not receive an adequate amount of sleep at night tend to have a more difficult time managing their OCD symptoms the following day. As a result, not getting enough sleep can perpetuate a cycle in which OCD symptoms intensify. This, in turn, can make it even more difficult to fall or stay asleep.

How does OCD affect your sleep?

OCD patients reported having a lower quality of sleep and more frequent sleep disruptions. A delayed sleep onset, mid-sleep point, and a more extended period between going to bed and falling asleep are some of these side effects. In turn, poor sleep can make living with OCD much harder, creating a vicious cycle.

How do I stop OCD thoughts at night?

Repeat a word or do a mental puzzle. One of the early but successful treatments for overthinking and intrusive ideas in bed is termed “articulatory suppression.” This is where you would mouth a word at a rate that makes thinking about any other thought impossible ― usually 3 to 4 times a second.

What causes OCD to flare up?

OCD can deteriorate due to trauma, stress, and abuse. An unsustainable desire to finish tasks or carry out routines are a symptom of OCD. These obsessions and compulsions may start to control the lives of persons with the disorder, affecting their work and personal lives.

How can OCD be treated?

After receiving treatment, some living with OCD can be healed completely. Others may still have OCD, but their symptoms are significantly reduced. Treatment plans frequently combine medication with dietary changes and behavior treatment.


Living with OCD and sleep issues can be difficult, but there are strategies you can use to help manage both conditions. The most important thing is to seek professional help from a qualified mental health provider and discuss the best treatment options for your unique situation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach that is effective in treating both OCD and sleep disturbances, but there are other treatment options available as well. Additionally, it is important to practice self-care by exercising, eating healthy foods, and engaging in activities that bring joy.

By taking steps to get proper medical care and make lifestyle changes, you can better manage your OCD symptoms and improve your quality of sleep. It may take time for treatments to be effective, so don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results. It may also be helpful to join a support group where you can connect with others who understand what you are going through.

Living with OCD and sleep issues can be challenging. Still, with the right support network and treatment plan in place, it is possible to improve your overall well-being. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if needed. Doing so could significantly improve your quality of life.

About the author

Eric Ridenour is a health and wellness writer with a strong focus on sleep and nutrition. With a background in health science and psychology, Eric has a deep understanding of the connection between sleep and overall well-being. His expertise has been sought by various businesses and individuals, and his work has been featured in reputable publications such as Thrive Global, Drug Report, and Authority Magazine. Eric's commitment to promoting better sleep and comprehensive wellness is evident in his writing and consultations. He is a published author working on his second book.

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