Sleep is often a big issue for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In fact, this post on sleep written over three years ago continues to be one of my most popular. Too much sleep, too little sleep, trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep all have the potential to exacerbate OCD.
I find it interesting that those with OCD, as well as those who suffer from anxiety and/or depression, have an increased risk of sleepwalking. Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine discovered this link. But what does it mean?
To be clear, sleepwalking doesn’t necessarily just mean walking in one’s sleep. It can also involve other motor activities, such as sitting up in bed, or doing routine activities such as getting dressed or making a sandwich. It occurs in the non-REM sleep cycle.
Let’s get back to what this increased risk of sleepwalking actually means. The lead author of the paper on this study, Maurice Ohayon, M.D., D.Sc., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, says “There is no doubt an association between nocturnal wanderings and certain conditions, but we don’t know the direction of the causality. Are the medical conditions provoking sleepwalking, or is it vice versa? Or perhaps it’s the treatment that is responsible.”
It’s the ‘ol which came first, the chicken or the egg conundrum. Does having OCD cause someone to sleepwalk? Or could it be that sleepwalking leads to OCD? To further complicate things, those who take antidepressants experience a higher than average amount of sleepwalking. As many of us know, SSRIs are antidepressants and are commonly used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Could they be the culprit? And how important is it to even figure this all out? Why does it matter?
To me, any research that sheds light on any aspect of OCD is welcome. Who knows what surprising breakthrough might arise from a particular finding? At the very least, health-care professionals can be made aware of the potential relationship between sleepwalking and various illnesses, so that its presence can serve as a red flag.
Maybe one of the reasons I find this subject so interesting is that I come from a family of very lively sleepers (talk about an oxymoron). As a young girl, my mother would walk down steps and then out the front door, only to be found on the sidewalk by kind neighbors who were familiar enough with her routine sleepwalking to gently guide her home. For as long as I can remember, I’ve talked, screamed, sung, and have had detailed conversations in my sleep. However, while other family members have exhibited similar sleep issues, my son Dan, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder, was not a sleep talker or walker as far as I know, though he certainly had his share of sleep problems when his OCD was severe.
There is so much we don’t know in regards to OCD, sleep, and their possible connection. What I do know is that for my son, and for so many others, getting proper treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder resulted in the added benefit of a good night’s sleep.