How to Ease Withdrawal Insomnia During Recovery

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Trouble sleeping is a common withdrawal symptom for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. This can be troubling and lead to increased anxiety. 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 alcohol, cannabis, opioids, sedatives, anxiety medications, and stimulants. Because every person and every addiction is different, the nature and degree of sleep problems varies.

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.

This is 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.

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. Wind down with quiet activities like reading before bed. 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 you can take to improving your sleep. Stick with it and combine methods if needed. It's likely you'll 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 be helpful in easing other withdrawal symptoms. These are very specific to the drug you are withdrawing from as well as 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.

A study of cocaine-addicted rats showed that sleep abnormalities increased the chances of relapse. Those animals that slept longer, with fewer interruptions, were less likely to exhibit cravings for cocaine. While findings from animal studies often don't correspond with results in humans, the researchers speculate that the same association supports sleep-based therapies for people with cocaine addiction.

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. While it may seem impossible at the moment, whatever you can do to improve your sleep can help in your long-term recovery.​

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