sleep better in an uncluttered roomMy husband’s a real neatnik in his office at home, purging his files monthly, and I’m especially aware of this on New Year’s Day. Not only are the holiday cards long gone from his desk. During his December vacation he whittles his to-do pile down to nothing.

My files, in contrast, are bulging from years of neglect, and this year’s holiday cards are still on my desk. I can’t imagine whittling my piles down to nothing. The neatest my office gets is when there are no piles of stuff on the floor.

My husband is also a champion sleeper—whereas I’m prone to insomnia. But could there be a relationship between household clutter and sleep quality?

Yes, says Pamela Thacher, a psychology professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. The results of a survey Thacher and student Alexis Reinheimer conducted recently suggest that hoarders are more likely to have sleep problems than people living with less clutter, and that getting rid of clutter might be conducive to better sleep.

More About the Survey*

People with hoarding disorder tend to have difficulty using rooms for their intended purpose, and Thacher and Reinheimer wondered if hoarders with cluttered bedrooms might experience more sleep problems than people with neater rooms.

To conduct their survey, they advertised online for people interested in hoarding, sleep, or clutter and recruited 281 participants. Based on their responses to survey questions, 83 were deemed at risk for hoarding disorder. The remaining respondents served as the controls.

What They Found Out

Hoarders reported significantly lower sleep quality and more sleep-related daytime disturbances than controls. Contrary to expectation, though, it was hoarders’ living rooms (rather than their bedrooms) that were the most likely to be cluttered and unusable. But their kitchens and bedrooms were also significantly more cluttered than those in the control group.

“It seemed like even people without hoarding disorder had what we call a dose response—meaning that the more clutter you had, the more likely you were to have a sleep disorder,” Thacher said, quoted online in U.S. News & World Report.

Clutter, Sleep, and Me

This makes perfect sense to me. I doubt I’d qualify as a hoarder, but my office is usually disorganized—and the amount of clutter varies depending on how busy I am and how stressed out I feel. The times when the office gets practically impassible are also the times when my insomnia is at its worst. Only when the stress has passed do I start sleeping better and take a stab at tidying up the office and the rest of the house.

I have no trouble thinking that the state of my room is related to the state of my sleep, but the idea that cleaning up my room would help me sleep is a bit of a stretch. Thacher is moving ahead with her research, though, conducting a study on non-hoarders with sleep problems to see if getting rid of clutter in their homes improves their sleep.

“A clean bedroom might set your mind at rest,” she said.

* Read a summary of Thacher’s research on hoarding and sleep on page 329 of the 2015 abstract supplement of the journal Sleep.

If you’ve noticed a relationship between sleep and clutter in your home, how would you describe it?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

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