Sleep is important to a person’s overall well-being. According to Psychology Today, “One in three American adults don’t get enough sleep. Though Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that as many as 90 percent of North Americans respond to this chronic lack of sleep with a regular dose of caffeine, that little pick-me-up doesn’t cut it; sleep deprivation is still having an impact on the individual’s body. For adults, failing to get at least seven hours of sleep at night can have dangerous mental-health effects.”
Clearly, in the United States, we have created a culture of poor sleep habits, but how does it factor into how some people use and abuse substances? What role does it play in active recovery from substance abuse?
Addiction and Sleep Disorders Are Often Co-occurring and Debilitating
Believe it or not, sleep issues and substance abuse have always gone hand in hand. Sleep disorders are five to 10 times more prevalent in addicts. Alcohol and opioid use have been known to cause sleep disturbances such as disrupted sleep and difficulty staying asleep. While sleep medications are generally safe for people, they can be a hazard for drug users. Contraindications can lead to injury or death. Sleeping pills can, like most other drugs, also be misused or become addictive.
A study published in Psychology states, “The relationship between substance abuse and sleep is emerging as an area of great interest for researchers. According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.6 percent of Americans older than 12 years met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, and the prevalence of illicit drug use in the same year was as high as 14.5 percent. Similarly, sleep disorders are also very common. The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America Poll, 2008, showed that about two-thirds (65%) of working adults reported experiencing sleep problems at least a few nights a week within the past month, and 44 percent reported this occurring every night or almost every night.”
As the connection between mental illness and substance abuse, it’s not yet known what the causality is when it comes to sleep disorders and addiction. What’s certain is that treating both at once is the key to healthy sleep habits and sobriety.
How Sleep Gives the Drug Addicted Brain a Chance to Heal
Bad sleep can set recovery back. It’s so important to maintain your sleep in order to stay sober. Sleep reduces stress levels, helps you make better choices and gives you the energy you require to keep yourself healthy. Here are recommended sleep times according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range is 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours
Recovery is all about healing the mind, the body and emotional well being. When we sleep, the body goes to work healing wounds and protecting our body from illness. Good sleep is a huge immune booster. Becoming sober is also hard work, and in order to problem solve well and focus, your body needs a good amount of sleep.
The Reality of Dealing with Insomnia While in Recovery
Insomnia is common while people are using drugs or recovering. Drugs can greatly alter the body’s hormone balances and metabolism which directly affects sleep. Insomnia can manifest itself in restless sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, etc.
When dealing with insomnia, take time to create a good bedtime routine. Maybe start with a cup of herbal tea and a bath followed by cozy pajamas and a book. Do things that help you feel drowsy, but don’t get into bed until you are ready to sleep. Finally, the last and most important thing to do is limit distractions caused by electronic devices. If it helps, keep a diary of your sleeping habits and strategies that do and don’t work. This will help you identify the best ways to help you get to sleep and stay asleep.
Some Healthy Sleep Habits When You’re Recovering from Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Healthy sleep habits are like any skill: they must be learned and practiced. When in recovery, it’s important to have a routine in your day that supports your sobriety, and that routine needs to include healthy sleep habits. The National Sleep Foundation suggests these following tips:
- Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
- Exercise daily.
- Evaluate your bedroom to ensure ideal temperature, sound and light.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Beware of hidden sleep stealers, like alcohol and caffeine.
- Turn off electronics before bed.
Sleep is an important but often ignored tool in becoming a sober individual. A good rehabilitation center will know that and give you the tools you need to get better sleep. Therapists and psychologists can suggest ways to reduce anxiety naturally and prepare your body and mind for sleep.