Sleep problems commonly occur among people with substance use disorders, but these issues can also occur during withdrawal and recovery. Problems with sleep can make recovery more complex. Trouble sleeping is a common withdrawal symptom for people addicted to drugs and alcohol. This can be troubling and lead to increased anxiety. Fortunately, research suggests that long-term recovery can help reverse sleep problems induced by substance use. While withdrawal insomnia is common, there are ways that you can deal with it and try to get a better night’s sleep.
How Addiction and Recovery Affect Sleep
Sleep problems can occur with any type of addiction. Sleep problems are also a common withdrawal symptom for people recovering from overuse of:
- Anxiety medications
Because every person and every addiction is different, the nature and degree of sleep problems varies. Sleep problems during recovery happen because your body is out of its normal rhythm. The time you spent using drugs or drinking excessively has changed the way your body works, and this commonly includes sleeping patterns. During recovery, your body is changing once again and trying to get used to being free of the substance. It is only natural that your sleep will be disrupted again.
People recovering from addictions may not return to normal sleep patterns for six months or longer. However, the initial few days of withdrawal can be particularly troubling. Sleep deprivation only makes the experience of withdrawal more uncomfortable.
How to Ease Withdrawal Insomnia
The good news is that for most people, withdrawal insomnia is only temporary. It is one of the side effects of cleaning out your body and returning to a substance-free life. The more disciplined you are in following guidelines for good sleep hygiene, the quicker your withdrawal insomnia will disappear. Quite often, the simplest things you can do are the best.
Establish Sleep Rituals
Much of recovery is about replacing bad habits with healthy ones. When it comes to sleep, try to:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day
- Wind down with quiet activities like reading before bed
- Create a restful sleep environment
- Avoid digital devices that can disrupt sleep before bedtime
Good sleep hygiene can play an essential role in sleep quality. Anything that will calm and relax you before trying to sleep will help.
Re-Establish Your Circadian Rhythms
Addiction can be difficult on your natural sleep cycle, and your body may have become accustomed to staying up most of the night. One way to counteract that is to expose your eyes—without sunglasses—to outdoor daylight early in the day. Do not look directly at the sun.
Try Natural Approaches First
Drink a warm cup of soothing, caffeine-free tea before bed, try meditation, and stay active during the day. These are just a few natural approaches to improving your sleep. You might also opt to try an herbal sleep aid such as:
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone that plays a part in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
- Valerian root: Valerian root is a herbal supplement that is sometimes used as a remedy for insomnia. One 2020 review found that it could be an effective treatment, although results may vary depending on the quality of the herbal extracts. While generally considered safe, it can have side effects. It may increase the sedative effects of other substances, including alcohol, narcotics, and other sleep aids.
- L-theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid that may help combat stress, promote relaxation, and reduce anxiety. It is found naturally in green and black tea, but it can also be found in supplement forms. Some research suggests that it may help improve sleep quality.
Before taking any herbal remedy for sleep, talk to your doctor. While such supplements may be “natural,” they can still produce unwanted side effects or cause you to become positive, particularly when combined with substances.
Strategies that can help improve your sleep include creating sleep rituals, restoring your circadian rhythms, and using natural sleep remedies. Stick with it and combine methods if needed. You’ll likely find better sleep soon.
Sleep Medication Precautions
Addictions can lead to other addictive behavior. It is most important that you try and avoid things that have the potential to become a substitute for your drug of choice. This is particularly true in the early stages when you’re going through withdrawal, and you’re most tempted to find fast relief. Try to avoid self-medicating with other drugs while you are going through withdrawal. This includes over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids, marijuana, and alcohol. Talk to your physician about whether short-term use of prescribed medications may help you sleep for the first few days. Some medications may help ease other withdrawal symptoms. These are very specific to the drug you are withdrawing from and the drug you are prescribed. Discuss potential side effects with your physician before taking these medications, and make sure to follow your physician’s instructions to the letter. Under no circumstances should you take more than prescribed, or for longer than prescribed. You may become ill or simply develop a substitute addiction.
Why Good Sleep Is Key to Recovery
As difficult as it may be, establishing good sleep habits early in your recovery can increase your chances of avoiding a relapse. You will hear this advice from former addicts, recovering alcoholics, and, most likely, your doctors and counselors as well. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), sleep deprivation decreases the sensitivity of dopamine receptors. As a result, people are more prone to impulsive behavior, which can contribute to drug relapse. A 2017 study found that fluctuations in sleep quality were linked to changes in drug cravings. On days when participants reported lower sleep quality, they also experienced greater substance cravings. Such results suggest that protecting sleep during recovery may help reduce the risk of relapse. This is a reasonable hypothesis because sleep is one of the keys to a healthy body. That is, after all, one of the goals for overcoming addiction. Whatever you can do to improve your sleep can help your long-term recovery.