Thousands of people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep every night. Chronic insomnia affects some 10% to 30% of adults, according to the Sleep Foundation. The organization notes that an insomnia diagnosis hinges on two main components: sleep difficulty despite adequate opportunities for normal sleep; and daytime impairment that results from poor quality or sleep duration.
People struggling with addiction and those in recovery, especially early recovery, also suffer from insomnia. A report from the Journal of Addiction Medicine states that insomnia in early recovery could be five times higher than in the general population. In fact, researchers found that insomnia could be linked to alcohol-related problems and relapse.
Alcohol is often used to help people feel drowsy and fall asleep, even though alcohol can cause sleep disruption. It is also used by those with alcohol use disorder, but people with any substance use disorder can be affected by insomnia.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat and overcome sleeplessness sober.
The Mayo Clinic defines insomnia as “a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up.” How much sleep a person needs is varied; however, most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
You may have short-term insomnia, which can last for a few days or weeks, and may be caused by stress or a traumatic event. Chronic insomnia lasts a month or more. Your medication or other medical or mental health condition may contribute to insomnia.
Mental health disorders: People in substance use recovery can be diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, both of which can contribute to insomnia. PTSD can also disrupt sleep. Waking up too early is a symptom of depression.
Medications: Some antidepressants and other prescription medication can contribute to insomnia. Many over-the-counter drugs that contain caffeine can cause insomnia.
Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol: All of these are stimulants which, if consumed later in the day, can cause problems falling asleep. Alcohol can prevent deep stages of sleep and cause waking up in the middle of the night.
Medical conditions: Some of the medical conditions linked with insomnia are chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, overactive thyroid, and heart disease.
Other causes that can cause sleeplessness are:
Stress: Concerns about work, school, finances, and personal relationships invade your thoughts as you try to fall asleep, when you are worried about your recovery, how to remain sober in difficult circumstances, and/or stressing about what can help you fall asleep.
Poor sleep habits: People in recovery might not return to normal sleep patterns for six months or more, says Verywell Mind. Also, if you nap during the day, do not keep a regular bedtime schedule, or engage in activities that are stimulating (watching TV, surfing the Internet, or social media apps).
If any of these are causing you not to fall asleep or stay asleep, it is best to check in with your recovery coach, addiction therapist, or doctor.
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While the symptoms of insomnia may seem pretty clear, WebMD indicates they are:
As mentioned above, substance use and addiction can contribute to insomnia. People in recovery may also experience symptoms of it. When you are in recovery, your body is changing, getting used to functioning without substances, and this includes how well you can get to sleep and stay asleep.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) writes that “because of the central role of sleep in consolidating new memories poor quality sleep may make it harder to learn new coping and self-regulation skills necessary for recovery.”
Below is how some of the most commonly misused substances can affect your ability to sleep.
People who are experiencing marijuana withdrawal symptoms will find it difficult to sleep. One of the main reasons for this is that marijuana is involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle via the body’s endocannabinoid system to which it binds.
These types of drugs can cause significant sleepiness. They can also disrupt sleep by increasing the transitions between the different sleep stages. If you are withdrawing from an opioid drug, you will more than likely experience terrible insomnia.
You may be wondering how you can treat your insomnia and stay sober. We’ve found a variety of treatments and behavioral adjustments to try to help you fall asleep and stay asleep—without medication.
Develop good sleep habits. If you set a regular time to go to bed every night, go to bed at that time. If you wake up at a certain time every day, get up at that same time every day. Set an alarm if needed. Sleeping in or oversleeping can cause you to feel more tired. Do something relaxing while in bed before you fall asleep, such as reading a book, listening to calm and soothing music, meditating, praying—whatever works for you.
Reclaim your circadian rhythms. Your body may be used to staying up all night. To reclaim your circadian rhythms, try to look into direct daylight when you wake up, but not into direct sunlight.
Natural approaches. A natural approach can be drinking something that is caffeine-free or practicing yoga. You can also take a warm shower or soothing bath.
There are many reasons why getting good sleep during recovery is essential. One of them is that it may prevent relapse. When you are overtired, you may be tempted to give in to cravings. When you feel rested after a sound sleep, you may feel stronger and may be less likely to relapse.
Obtaining better health is one of the positive benefits of becoming substance-free. A rested body can recuperate faster than one that is not well-rested. If you exercise every day, you will feel better. It also helps you reach a deeper level of sleep. If you wish for a good rest, try a low-key approach to exercise, like tai chi. However, avoid exercising three to four hours before going to bed.
The addiction therapists at Serenity at Summit are also able to suggest alternative ways of obtaining a sound and restful sleep. They are educated and experienced in helping you turn negative or unproductive thoughts into positive, beneficial thoughts. This is known as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT in short. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) states in a report that “research on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat insomnia has shown positive results.”
When you can effectively train your mind, with help from an addiction specialist, you might be able to catch some deep sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to take any triggers or cravings head-on and prevent relapse.
Sleep Foundation. (2020, September 4) Insomnia. Suni, E. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia
Journal of Addiction Medicine. (2014 December) Behavioral Treatment of Insomnia in Early Recovery. Kaplan, K. et. al. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/journaladdictionmedicine/Citation/2014/11000/Behavioral_Treatment_of_Insomnia_in_Early_Recovery.2.aspx
Mayo Clinic. (2016, October 15) Insomnia. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167
Verywell Mind. (2020, June 3) How to Ease Withdrawal Insomnia During Recovery. Hartney, E., BSc., MSc., MA, PhD. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/withdrawal-insomnia-tips-22376
WebMD. (2020, June 13) Symptoms of Insomnia. WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/understanding-insomnia-symptoms
NIDA. (2020, March 9). Connections between Sleep and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/03/connections-between-sleep-substance-use-disorders
SAMHSA. (Fall 2014) Treating Sleep Problems of People in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma14-4859.pdf