Overcoming sleep problems during addiction recovery

By Sally Writes

How to overcome sleep problems during addiction recovery. Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on UnsplashSleep is a real Catch-22 situation; optimal sleep quality is vital as an aid in addiction recovery, yet it can be harder than ever to achieve. One 2014 study found that insomnia is a “prevalent and persistent” issue for those in the early phases of addiction recovery. Failing to get enough sleep can also lead to a higher rate of relapse, which is why treating sleep disturbance during early recovery is crucial.

How Prevalent is Insomnia Among Those in Recovery?

The incidence of insomnia in early recovery may be five times higher than in the general population. Moreover, the problem may persist long-term, lasting from months to years. The relationship between insomnia and addiction goes both ways; that is, those who have insomnia have a higher risk of developing an addiction, and those who are addicted to alcohol or substances are more likely to sleep poorly.

What Treatment Works Best?

Research suggests that doctors should be wary to prescribe medications to induce sleep. These may clash with the idea that complete abstinence is important for those who are battling addiction. Medications such as benzodiazepines can be highly addictive and create withdrawal symptoms when a person stops taking them. Ideally, therefore, the road to better sleep should involve a combination of good sleep hygiene and behavioral treatment.

Staying True to Your Circadian Rhythm

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.” Ideally, human beings should feel sleepiest between 2 and 4 a.m. (when they are usually asleep), and between 1 and 3 p.m. (when a nap may appeal). Your circadian rhythm tends to stay true to the cycle of day and night time where you live; this is why those who work at night or have rotating schedules can find it hard to sleep during the day and stay awake at night. To boost your quality of sleep, ensure your bedroom is dark and that the temperature is just right. Use blackout curtains if you have shift work and if you must work at night, try to opt for a regular schedule. Even more detrimental to health than shift work is rotating shift work, which has been linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer. Therefore, if you are currently working, try to ensure your work schedule is as regular as possible, even if night shifts are unavoidable.

The Importance of Routine

Set up an evening routine and try to strictly follow it. Avoid using gadgets or drinking beverages such as coffee in the hours leading up to bedtime. Consider mindful activities such as yoga, meditation, journaling, visualization exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. When sleep is particularly hard to come by, consider using more than one technique.

Behavioral Treatment

Evidence supports the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for patients with insomnia during recovery. CBT can include the use of daily sleep diaries to enable the therapist to elicit reasons why sleep may be hard to come by. This therapy essentially teaches human beings that there is an important link between their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Sometimes, by changing just one small behavior, the way we think and feel about things can improve considerably. CBT can enable us to make important changes to our routine that may be standing in the way of our health and wellbeing.

If you are in the early stages of recovery and are finding it hard to sleep, you certainly aren’t alone. Rather than giving in to the temptation to consume alcohol or substances to feel sleepy, consider taking a multifaceted approach to the issue; one in which allaying sleep with your natural circadian rhythms, creating an inviting bedroom environment and pursuing relaxation and stress-relief techniques are top priorities.