The Surprising Thing Hoarders Have In Common

Photographed by Mindy Best.
Thoughts of hoarding usually include some pretty extreme (and not totally representative) images, like newspapers stacked a mile high and too many cats. But those who are at risk for developing hoarding disorder may also suffer from another all-too-common struggle: getting the heck to sleep.

In a study presented this week at the 29th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, 281 people responded to a series of online surveys that assessed their sleep quality as well as risk factors for developing hoarding disorder. Participants were also asked about which areas of their houses were the least livable due to hoarding.

Of the participants, about 30% scored as high-risk for developing hoarding disorder, whereas the rest had a low risk. Those in the high-risk group were also more likely to report sleep disturbances, including taking a long time to fall asleep. But, they didn't rank their bedrooms as the most cluttered areas of their houses — so it's not like their sleep deprivation was caused by magazine-piled beds alone.

Television has familiarized us with the most extreme version of hoarding disorder, which was previously considered a subtype of OCD. In the most recent version of the DSM, it's now listed as a distinct condition, and experts estimate it affects about 2-5% of the population. Those who suffer from the disorder usually have an exceptionally difficult time getting rid of their possessions, regardless of value. So what does sleep have to do with it?

Well, because we know that sleep difficulties can hinder our cognitive processes — such as making judgment calls about what to keep — they may make it more difficult to resist hoarding tendencies. "Any existing risk for cognitive dysfunction, depression, and stress may increase as sleep quality worsens," said study author Pamela Thacher in a press release. And because cluttered living spaces may make it difficult to get a good night's sleep, hoarders can fall into a self-perpetuating cycle.

But, because hoarding has a lot of overlap with anxiety disorders like OCD, there may be other things keeping hoarders awake at night. Research shows that getting one-on-one therapy can help with both chronic and short-term bouts of insomnia — and with anxiety disorders. So, getting people who struggle with hoarding the help they need could solve two problems at once.
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