Individuals in recovery will likely experience a plethora of physical, mental and emotional challenges throughout their journey to achieve and maintain lifelong sobriety. One common challenge many people in recovery must learn to overcome involves disruptions in sleep and associated sleeping patterns.
Insomnia and substance use disorder
While sleeping problems are a common issue for those actively struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), these issues can be continued or exacerbated when one attempts to wean off or quit substance use. Since sleep disturbances, particularly insomnia, can increase an individual’s risk of relapsing, it is essential to recognize and utilize different methods to combat sleep problems in recovery.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or obtaining quality sleep throughout the night. While there are many different kinds of sleep issues that individuals in recovery may experience, insomnia is the most common sleep problem. Not only does insomnia interfere with an individual’s ability to function well in their waking life, but it can also contribute to worsening mental, physical and emotional health problems, all of which are risk factors for relapse.
Insomnia is considered a medical diagnosis, and anyone can struggle with it. Although only an estimated six percent of the general population has a legitimate diagnosis of insomnia, the disorder’s symptoms affect more than 33% of the general population.
Substance use and sleep
To understand why insomnia affects a large portion of the population of individuals in recovery, we must recognize how substance use impairs sleep hygiene and health. Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression cause people to experience disturbed sleep. Likewise, it is imperative to acknowledge SUD as a complex mental health condition that also affects sleep.
Nearly all kinds of substance use disturb brain areas that control sleep. These systems are responsible for influencing one to fall asleep and stay asleep, as well as regulating overall sleep quality. Stimulant drugs, for example, increase the activity of the central nervous system, which leads to increased alertness and attention. As a result, taking stimulant drugs can prevent individuals from falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. Similarly, these drugs can reduce one’s overall duration of sleep.
On the other hand, sedative drugs, including alcohol, can be deceiving to one’s sleep health. After all, sedative drugs increase drowsiness and can make it easier for a person to fall asleep and stay asleep. However, misusing or abusing sedative drugs can lead to dysregulation in sleep when such sedatives are not being used. Regular or chronic use of sedatives can also lead to dependency and addiction, which can contribute to worsening overall health. While sleep aids may be helpful temporarily, they should never be used as a long-term or permanent solution for adequate sleep hygiene.
Combatting insomnia in recovery
No matter what type of substance an individual is in recovery from, more likely than not, they will experience trouble sleeping as they work to achieve sobriety. Sleep problems are common withdrawal symptoms that can last for months or even years into recovery. To experience well-being in both short-term and long-term recovery, one must be aware of different ways to manage insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
#1. Stay active.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to combat insomnia is to stay active. Studies have found that individuals who engage in regular exercise experience increased sleep efficiency and duration, regardless of the mode or intensity of activity. This is because aerobic exercise naturally tires out both the physical body and the mind. Similarly, engaging in these exercises during the day can help the mind better regulate its sleep-wake cycle.
Many people associate exercise only with running, but there are many different ways to get active. For those who do not consider themselves runners, here are some examples of ways that one can stay active during recovery:
- Taking a yoga class
- Taking a pilates class
- Strength training
- Playing catch, kickball or basketball
#2. Stick to a sleep schedule.
Although it’s easier said than done, another way to combat insomnia is by sticking to a sleep schedule. One can do this by waking up at the same time every morning and going to bed around the same time every night. It can take a while for the body to acclimate to a sleep schedule, so it is important to give it time. A sleep schedule can also involve putting away electronics an hour before bed and managing how many alarms one uses to wake up in the morning.
#3. Know what to avoid.
Several other things can contribute to insomnia during recovery, such as taking naps, drinking caffeine throughout the day or even eating too close to when it’s time to sleep. It is important to know what behaviors can worsen sleep hygiene, especially for those who already struggle with sleep, so individuals can know what behaviors to avoid. Try to create an eating schedule that will work with one’s sleep schedule, and be sure to limit sugary snacks or large meals too soon before bedtime.
Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction treatment center that understands the numerous challenges that one may experience throughout their treatment and recovery journey. We can help create an individualized treatment plan for you that prioritizes good sleep hygiene for lasting recovery. To learn more about our treatment program and services, call us today at (855) 508-0473.