How To Deal With Insomnia During Recovery
12/16/19: Addiction RecoveryThe Journal of Addiction Medicine cites insomnia as being a “prevalent and persistent” problem for patients during the early phases of recovery from addiction. So much so, that those recovering from addiction are five times more likely to suffer from sleep disturbance than the average person. And unfortunately, lack of quality sleep can make a person much more susceptible to relapsing. Because this is such a common problem, we want to share some tips for dealing with insomnia while you or a loved one is going through treatment for addiction. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes a person to experience difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Common symptoms are:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Having trouble staying asleep (i.e. waking up frequently during the night)
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Persistent sleepiness during the day after waking
- Confusion/fogginess throughout the waking hours
- Trouble focusing on tasks
Why the relationship between addiction and insomnia?There are a number of reasons why those with addiction suffer from insomnia at a higher rate than people without. They may have started with the insomnia, and began self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol to try and help them sleep better. In addition, insomnia causes disturbances with one’s mental health and wellbeing as well, leading to higher levels of stress which could compel someone to try and escape this with substances. As for those who develop insomnia during recovery, it is usually due to the sudden change in brain chemistry combined with the fact that they can no longer avoid the intense emotions and feelings that they were attempting to escape with drugs and alcohol. A busy, chaotic brain is difficult to turn off, and churning thoughts can keep a person up all night long if they cannot suppress them.
How to Combat Insomnia
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Regardless of whether you are suffering from insomnia or not, seeing a therapist regularly is essential to your recovery from addiction and general mental health. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been identified as one of the most effective therapies for dealing with insomnia. Your therapist will likely have you complete questionnaires about your sleep patterns and progress, and may even have you keep daily sleep diaries that record your level of success falling and staying asleep. CBT targets processes that perpetuate insomnia by educating you on what leads to sleep disturbances and how to eliminate these things and strengthen the association between being in bed and sleeping. Patients will also learn how to challenge negative thoughts and behaviors.
Adopt a healthy dietMany do not realize how much your diet affects your physical and mental health. Consuming a lot of sugar, refined fats, spicy food, and caffeine can worsen insomnia. “Good” foods contain natural sources of magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins, which all help relax the muscles and stimulate relaxation. Good sources of these vitamins are legumes and leafy green vegetables. In general, eating a whole foods diet rich in nutrients will help to balance your body’s chemistry in a healthy, natural way. This can address all kinds of issues, not just insomnia.
ExerciseMoving your body can do wonders for your wellbeing. Tiring yourself out before bed can help you fall asleep quicker and also stimulate a night of much deeper sleep. However, it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise during recovery or low points in your life when you don’t feel like getting out of bed, let alone going for a jog. However, anything helps. Don’t feel bad about starting small. Even a 10 to 15 minute walk once a day before bed or even a few times a week to start will help you establish a habit. From there, you can increase the time and intensity of the activity.
Limiting exposure to light before bedOur circadian rhythm (AKA the natural process that happens within our bodies, regulating our sleeping and waking time) depends greatly on our exposure to light. In a time before screens and electricity, humans would actually go to sleep with the sunset and wake at sunrise. This is because the release of the sleep hormone melatonin is greatly increased in response to a lack of light. Nowadays, we typically stay awake long past dark and indulge in sleeping through the early hours of the morning, so many of our circadian rhythms have been majorly thrown off. To combat this, avoid unnecessary screen time in the hour leading up to your bedtime. You can even dim the lights a bit to help things along further. If you have trouble waking up in the morning, try keeping your curtains open overnight so that in the morning the natural light of the sun will help ease you awake and provide the energy needed to climb out of bed and start the day. If these things don’t work for you, you can try Light Therapy. Light therapy involves a period of time sitting in front of a “lightbox”, which emits a strong, bright light. This can also help with things like Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is often experienced during winter when the days are shorter and people don’t get nearly as much exposure to light.
Create an environment conducive to sleepThe environment in which you sleep can have a huge effect on your ability to relax. Sleeping on a high-quality mattress with plenty of back support can make a world of difference, as well as having comfortable pillows and bedding. Lowering the temperature at night also helps promote a night of more restful sleep. If you’re a light sleeper, try to find ways to limit disruptive noise. Though, certain calming sounds like rain, ocean waves, or white noise can help lull a person to sleep. If you can, try and keep your bedroom tidy and clutter-free. In addition, avoid keeping electronics in the room in which you sleep. Being surrounded by reminders of chores that need to be done or work that needs to be completed will contribute to restlessness.
Try to keep a consistent sleep scheduleLife can get in the way sometimes, but for the most part, try and keep a consistent sleep schedule if you can. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day trains your body to wind down and wake up at the appropriate times.
In conclusion…Dealing with insomnia on top of everything else that comes along with addiction recovery can be frustrating. However, you can and will get through it. Don’t be afraid to try different things to find what works for you. Everyone deserves consistent, restful nights of sleep, especially those who are going through something as difficult as addiction treatment.
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