Importance of Sleep During Recovery
Most common mental disorders--such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorders--are associated with disturbed sleep. The relationship between substance misuse and sleep is a two-way street: substance use causes sleep problems, and poor sleep may also be a factor raising the risk of drug use and addiction. (1)
According to one article, “Sleep and addiction are intricately linked. Individuals with addiction are 5 to 10 times more likely to have comorbid sleep disorders.” This comorbidity (two or more conditions present at the same time in the same person) indicates that once people do successfully stop using their drug of choice, they should commit to a healthy sleep schedule.
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Sleep and Addiction Recovery
Most kinds of substance use disrupt sleep-regulatory systems in the brain, affecting the time it takes to fall asleep, duration of sleep, and sleep quality. A study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine reveals that those in early recovery are five times more likely to suffer from insomnia than those in the general population. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, insomnia fuels drug cravings, which lead to increased chance of relapse. And because sleep is essential in consolidating new memories, poor sleep quality disrupts the ability to learn new coping and self-regulation skills required for recovery.
Insomnia = sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling and staying asleep. Sleep deprivation = not getting enough sleep due to restricted opportunity to sleep.
Being in recovery is a process of healing, and good sleep is an essential part of that healing process. According to the US National Library of Medicine, research indicates that sleep disturbances create an increased risk of relapse for those in the recovery process. So a healthy eight hours of sleep, unassisted by medication or sleep aides, is essential for recovery.
How Drugs and Alcohol Affect Sleep
The following effects are identified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Marijuana binds to cannabinoid receptors; the endocannabinoid system helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Over 40% of people trying to quit using marijuana report sleep difficulty as the most distressing symptom of withdrawal. In fact, one in ten people who relapsed to cannabis use cited sleep difficulty as the reason for relapse.
Cocaine and amphetamine-like drugs (such as methamphetamine) are among the most potent dopamine-increasing drugs, and their repeated misuse can lead to severe sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation downregulates dopamine receptors, making people more impulsive and vulnerable to drug use.
Opioid drugs such as heroin bind to mu-opioid receptors, which help regulate sleep. Natural and synthetic opioid drugs can lead to profound sleepiness, but they also can disrupt sleep by increasing transitions between different stages of sleep. Withdrawal from opioid use often leads to profound insomnia. Because opioids in brainstem regions control respiration, opioid misuse can also dangerously interfere with breathing during sleep.
Although alcohol might initially make you feel relaxed and maybe even fall asleep, Cleveland Clinic notes that alcohol disrupts the quality of sleep by increasing the number of times you wake during the night and, therefore, interrupting REM sleep.
Related: Healthline, "Effects of Insomnia on the Body"
Related video from Reclamation Sisters: Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Importance of Sleep
Medical News Today identifies the following benefits that health professionals associate with getting sufficient sleep.
More social and emotional intelligence.
Prevention of depression.
Stronger immune system.
Lower risk of heart disease.
Better productivity and concentration.
Lower weight gain risk.
Better calorie regulation.
Greater physical performance.
Narconon identifies the following additional benefits of healthy sleep.
Sleep regulates blood pressure. The heart is one of the organs most damaged by drug and alcohol misuse, which affects blood pressure. A healthy sleep schedule helps lower the risk for heart disease by literally helping to repair the damages caused by addiction and misuse.
A good night’s rest improves mood. Emotional and social wellness, both critical to life in recover, are linked the the physical wellness aspect of sleep. Empathy is more evident in and accessible to people who have health sleep schedules.
The body heals while asleep. Sleep can literally repair damage to muscles, tissues, tendons, ligaments, and organs. The longer and healthier that sleep is, the more repair work is done. Sleep boosts the immune system, repairs the body, regenerates damaged areas, and helps the individual recover from illnesses, physical harm, and other maladies.
Tips to Improve Your Sleep
If you are experiencing sleep issues while recovering from an addiction, consider adjustments to your evening routine and sleeping environment.
Be mindful of food and drink. Avoid eating unhealthy snacks or heavy meals within an hour of bedtime. According to WedMD, eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and sleeping problems. But if you're hungry right before bed, try a small healthy snack. Avoid alcohol and nicotine for for 4-6 hours before bedtime, as these substances are stimulants. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy, but it reduces the quality of sleep. And when you're recovering from addiction or dealing with stress and anxiety, your body requires quality sleep.
Manage stress. Exercise early in the day. Spend about 15 minutes writing a to-do list or journaling to "release" your worries for the evening; let those overwhelming thoughts go so your mind can relax. Practice mindful breathing. Check out our Day 8 task to implement box breathing to calm anxiety. Sip some chamomile tea, but not while you scroll...turn off those screens at least an hour before bed.
Create a ritual. Develop a relaxing ritual to signal to your brain that it's time to wind down for the night. Try different things to discover what works for you. How about a little yoga or stretching? Maybe a hot bath or shower. For me, it's reading on the couch.
Create a restful environment. Sleep.org recommends keeping a quiet, cool, dark room and replacing your pillow every year. I definitely agree that a high quality pillow can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep; my husband and I have used orthopedic pillows for about ten years and they have made a big difference for our sleep quality. And try some lavender essential oil to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. (Tips for using lavender.)
Stick to a schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each day. This is tough for me but I'm trying to do better!
Related blog: Join the 2021 Reclamation Wellness Challenge! Follow this blog as it's updated each day of the 100-day challenge.
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Written by Laura B. Demers, © 2021 Reclamation Sisters