How to sleep better is likely not one of the things you really thought about before recovery. Maybe sleep is something that came easily to you. Afterall, it’s a basic human need and one that many of us take for granted.
That is until the days of your head hitting the pillow and falling asleep instantly are far behind you. Which is not entirely uncommon for people with addiction.
Today we are talking all about sleep and how it can lead to a healthier, more productive, and happier life in recovery.
The Link Between Sleep Disorders and Substance Abuse
People in recovery can have an incredibly hard time with sleep.
33% of people have trouble sleeping and those who are in recovery are 5 times more likely to suffer from insomnia than the general population.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, substance use can exacerbate sleep difficulties, and can even present a risk factor for substance use or relapse.
Reported rates of sleep problems among people with AUD in treatment range from 25 to 72 percent. People in detoxification from opioids often report symptoms of insomnia. These symptoms can last weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
[Tweet “Myth bust: All substances can lead to sleep disorders, even ones with sedative effects like alcohol, opiates, and marijuana. #SleepBetterFeelBetter @sleepfoundation”]
Why People in Recovery Struggle With Sleep
So why do people in recovery have a particularly hard time with sleep and sleeping disorders?
- Alcohol and drug use/abuse disrupts your sleep cycle for years and it can take time to readjust to normal sleep patterns
- Symptoms of withdrawal are uncomfortable and can keep you up at night (such as restless leg syndrome)
- If you’ve been using or abusing sleeping pills, it can take a while to readjust to falling asleep without them
- Stress and/or anxiety (especially in the early days of recovery)
If you are struggling to maintain a healthy sleep cycle, talk to your doctor. Sleep loss can lead to other health complications and potential relapse.
Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
Early recovery and withdrawal present their own particular set of symptoms. Many overlap and exacerbate the symptoms of sleep deprivation making it even more important to address during recovery.
- Mood swings
- Mind fogginess
- Impaired performance (at work, school, or other commitments)
- Memory problems
- Sleep cycle disruption
- Body aches and pains
How Quality of Sleep Affects Your Recovery
Changes to Your Sleep and Wake Schedule
Feeling tired all day or wide awake at night? Your natural body clock could be a little confused. Many addictive behaviors take place at night or when using you simply get caught up in your addiction, losing track of time. Getting your next high takes precedence over any other basic human need and this can have major consequences for your sleep and wake cycle.
[Tweet “Feeling tired all day or wide awake at night? Your natural body clock could be a little confused”]
Less Time Spent in REM Sleep Stage
What is REM, anyway?
According to sleepsolutions.com:
“REM sleep is one of 4 stages of sleep. Ideally, REM takes place every 90 minutes or so, with these stretches of REM sleep cycling between periods of nonREM sleep. Each REM period ideally is longer in length than the one before it.
We already know REM is characterized by distinctive eye movements during sleep while the eyes are shut, and that dreaming takes place during REM.
For this reason, it is also known as paradoxical sleep: the brain becomes measurably active, maybe even more active, during REM sleep than when compared to wakefulness.”
When in REM sleep, your brain is essentially cleaning house. While scientists are still figuring out why REM sleep is important, they know that it is.
In short, when you don’t get REM sleep you spend less time in a state of deep sleep, don’t dream, and wake up feeling tired, cranky, and groggy.
[Tweet “Myth bust: You can’t catch up on sleep. #SleepBetterFeelBetter @harvardmed @sleepfoundation”]
Taking Longer to Fall Asleep
A normal sleep latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep) is anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. If you are falling asleep as soon as you lay down, you might not be getting enough sleep. If it takes you an hour or more to fall asleep you might be trying to get too much sleep.
Alcohol is used by more than one in ten individuals as a hypnotic agent to self-medicate sleep problems. Obviously, in recovery, a nightcap isn’t really an option.
With that said, you could try a few exercises which could help make falling asleep a little easier. Check out our tips for getting a better sleep below.
How to Sleep Better and Still Rock Your Recovery
If you are struggling with sleep in recovery know this; you’re not alone. It’s completely normal and can mostly be treated with at home remedies such as meditation, exercise, aromatherapy and other stress-reducing activities.
We’ve already gone over what can happen if you don’t get enough sleep, so we know how important it is to make it a priority. Want to wake up feeling rested, refreshed, and have more productive days? Try the following.
Create a Nightly Routine That You Look Forward To
Preparing for a good night’s sleep can make all the difference in the quality of your sleep. Try creating your own custom routine. Consider taking a hot bath with essential oils, lighting candles, and reading a chapter of a book or writing in a journal before turning in for the night.
Make Your Bedroom A Zen Zone
Sleep is precious – that much we know. Create a room that is worthy of this precious time. Get sheets that are comfy that you love.
Don’t let your bedside table pile up with clutter and only keep what you truly need around your sleep area. A book, candle, and some aromatherapy hand lotion are great contenders.
Sleep in Complete Darkness and Silence
Try dark or light canceling curtains. If that is not an option get a sleep mask. To block out noise, consider using earplugs or a white noise machine.
No screens in bed. Make a rule for no screen time after 8 PM.
Quit Caffeine and No Beverages Before Bed
We know. You’ve given up a lot for your recovery (and we commend you) but caffeine could be directly affecting your sleep patterns. If you can’t quit it altogether, try to limit your caffeine intake as much as you can and don’t consume any after 2 PM. We know it’s hard but just give it a try for a week or two.
Also, try to limit your beverages the closer you get to bedtime so you aren’t getting up constantly to urinate.
Get Outside and Exercise
You guessed it. It’s not just what happens at bedtime that matters. Make time for long walks, go to the beach, or hike a trail. If you don’t have time to do those things, a short ten-minute walk around the block can do the trick as well.
Exercise has long been linked to obvious health benefits and to sleep. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of cardio activity each day.
Try a guided meditation, bedtime yoga practice, or breathing exercises 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. These activities are not only great stress relievers but they release happy hormones like serotonin which can lead to a more restful sleep.
As Gretchen Rubin says, the things we do every day matter far more than the things we do once in a while. You don’t have to do all of these things but consider giving them all a fair shot before seeking medical intervention.
Sleep disorders are incredibly common for people in recovery. If you believe you may at risk, talk to your doctor about your options.
*The above information is not medical advice. Please seek professional medical attention if you believe you have a sleep disorder or if you’ve relapsed as a result.
Sleep Hygiene Recommendations
Too Little Sleep, and Too Much, Affect Memory
Healthy Sleep Tips
Treating Sleep Problems of People in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders