Are the piles of junk crowding your house to blame for keeping you up all night?
A new study shows that people at risk for hoarding disorder, meaning they scored higher than 35 out of a maximum 40 points on the Hoarding Rating Scale (HRS), are more likely to have trouble with sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
These problems, according to a summary of the study published in the journal Sleep, include:
- Trouble falling asleep at night.
- Sleep disturbances, such as waking up in the middle of the night or getting up to go to the bathroom.
- Problems staying awake during daily activities like eating, driving or socializing.
“There are so many different components to hoarding, and sleep deprivation is a huge one,” said Cory Chalmers, a hoarding cleanup expert who has appeared on the A&E reality show “Hoarders.”
Severe hoarders – level four and five on the clutter hoarding scale – rarely schedule a visit for a cleanup estimate in the morning, Chalmers said: “The majority of our customers are up all night so they want to sleep until noon.”
The topic has been discussed on hoarding message boards at HoardingCleanup.com, where one woman with hoarding issues, going by Darci, described the problem as a catch-22.
“I can’t sleep well until I can clean off my bed, but I can’t clean off my bed until I clean out my closet, but I can’t clean out my closet because I don’t have room to spread out and sort everything,” she wrote. “Plus, I am so tired … I go out and shop to get a temporary burst of energy.”
Cluttered Home, Worried Mind
Most people with a high-level hoarding disorder are not sleeping on a proper bed, said Regina Lark, a certified professional organizer and owner of A Clear Path, who works with clients with hoarding disorder.
One client of hers, for example, had his bed covered in a mountain of clothes that nearly reached the ceiling, and was sleeping nearby on a cushion from a pool lounge chair.
In other cases, a hoarder might try to catch some Zs in a sleeping bag or on an armchair. In extremely severe hoarding situations, the only clear space in the whole home might be a two-foot-by-two-foot space on the couch, Chalmers said.
“That’s not just where they sleep – it’s where they eat, watch TV and live their lives,” he said.
In addition to having a home so packed with stuff that they can’t sleep on the bed, hoarders might also experience problems sleeping due to:
- Lack of airflow. Air conditioning or a fan might not work well if a room is too packed with stuff, said Janet Yeats, a licensed marriage and family therapist, cofounder and director of programs for The Hoarding Project, an organization that does hoarding research and education and therapy.
- Infestations. A severely hoarded home might have infestations of cockroaches, mice or other pests. “Certainly it’s going to impact your sleep if you’re not the only one in the room,” Yeats said.
- Unsanitary conditions. In extreme cases, a home can have bacteria, mold, mildew, pet feces and waste, Yeats says. Those issues can affect physical health and even cause upper respiratory problems, she said.
Another problem: anxiety and depression – and ruminating thoughts – often coexist with hoarding disorder, Yeats said, and Chalmers agreed. “If you can’t shut off your mind, it’s hard to go to sleep,” he said.
What Can Be Done?
On HoardingCleanup.com, hoarding cleanup expert Nicole Osborne Despres recommends clearing off the bed first and using tools and techniques like white noise, deep breathing exercises and even herbal remedies to get a better night’s sleep.
But if the home is hazardous, the main priority shouldn’t be to get stuff off the bed, but to fix safety issues that can increase the risk of fire, falling or other dangers, Yeats said.
If the home is safe, it’s best for a person with hoarding disorder to start by working in therapy with a qualified professional to understand the reasons for their hoarding, Yeats said. For example, the hoarding could be linked to trauma, loss or growing up in a home that was hoarded, Yeats said.
“When we’re able to help a person work through the why, then we can help them change the behaviors,” Yeats said.