OCD and Sunlight

When my client, Khin (name made up) was suffering from severe OCD, he would usually be awake all night, and pace up and down his house. It was not unusual for him to fall asleep on the living-room floor, or any place else he could when he would collapse from fatigue. Even when his signs started to enhance, he still could not drop off to sleep normal hours and would be awake until 4:00 am. No wonder, he would then sleep half the day away. His sleep cycle was completely out of sync.

Research is indicating that this abnormal sleep pattern is not unusual in individuals experiencing OCD. In a July 2018 article published in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, scientists have found a link between living at higher latitudes, where sunlight is available in lower quantity than other parts of earth, appears to increase the prevalence of OCD.

In concerns to the delayed sleep-wake pattern just like the one Khin experienced, Prof Meredith Coles, first author of the study, describes:

“This delayed sleep-wake pattern may reduce exposure to morning light, thereby potentially contributing to a misalignment between our internal biology and the external light-dark cycle. People who live in areas with less sunlight may have less opportunities to synchronize their circadian clock, leading to increased OCD symptoms.”

To puts it simply, if you sleep through the morning hours of sunshine, you have less opportunity of “catching up” with your sun exposure if you live in locations with less sun.

Professor Coles finds the results of this study exciting as they provide a new links to prevalence of OCD. She states:

Specifically, they [the results] show that living in areas with more sunlight is related to lower rates of OCD.

The results of this study are very fascinating, and not completely surprising. Research is already indicating that lack of direct exposure to sunshine can impact our psychological health — those with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) can certainly testify to that.

effects of sunshine on mental health

Sometimes outcomes of studies leave us with more concerns than responses. Why do those with OCD often have unusual sleep cycles to begin with? Is it anxiety keeping them awake, or is it something else? Professor Coles desires responses to these questions too and states that future research studies are underway, including testing a variety of treatments to correct the sleep and body clock disruptions. She says :

“First, we are looking at relations in between sleep timing and OCD symptoms consistently gradually in order to start to consider causal relationships,” stated Coles. “Second, we are measuring circadian rhythms straight by measuring levels of melatonin and having people use watches that track their activity and rest periods. Finally, we are conducting research to better comprehend how sleep timing and OCD relate.”

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be such a complex condition so it is always motivating to hear of research study being done on different elements of it. Who knows? Possibly these research studies will somehow lead to better treatment options, or even a treatment, for OCD. Definitely that would help us all sleep soundly!


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