Late Bedtime May Exacerbate OCD Symptoms

New research out of Binghamton University in New York found that people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who go to bed later have lower perceived control over their obsessive thoughts.

The study was led by Meredith E. Coles, a Professor of Psychology at Binghamton University, along with Jessica Schubert, a former graduate student now attending the University of Michigan Medical School.  Together, they monitored one week of sleep in 20 people who had a diagnosis of OCD, as well as 10 people showing some signs and symptoms of OCD.  All participants were asked to keep a sleep diary and rate their perceived level of control over their obsessive thoughts and ritual behaviors daily.  Researchers noticed that the prior night’s bed time significantly impacted the person’s perceived ability to control their thoughts and behaviors the next day.

Ms. Schubert noted that this research may help them determine how these sorts of unusual sleep times may affect cognitive functioning in OCD patients.  It’s possible that these sleep times could decrease their level of impulse control. Shifting sleep times may reduce one’s ability to control his or her thoughts and behaviors; therefore, it may be that these individuals are more likely to have a tough time controlling intrusive, obsessive thoughts.  Additionally, shifts in bed times may make it difficult for an individual to avoid compulsive behaviors that are specifically done to reduce anxiety levels caused by obsessive and intrusive thoughts.

Study participants went to bed, on average, around 12:30 a.m.  About 40% of people met diagnostic criteria for delayed sleep phase disorder, so these people went to bed around 3 a.m.

Ms. Coles noted that it is widely understood that we are supposed to get an average of eight hours of sleep each night; however, she was surprised to find that it also matters when you sleep.  It is striking to see the difference bed times make to the circadian rhythm of the individual.  Finding specific negative consequences of sleeping at the wrong time will be an opportunity to educate the public and medical communities.

This phenomenon will be explored further.  Ms. Coles will collect pilot data by providing lightboxes to individuals to help them shift their bed times.  This is one of the first efforts to shift a bed time to see if it reduces OCD symptoms, or at least allow the individual to better control their thoughts and behaviors.  The ultimate goal is to determine if this research shows true improvement in their ability to resist intrusive thoughts that may lead to compulsions in response to those thoughts.



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