We all know that getting enough sleep is generally important to your overall health but it’s even more important when you are fighting a drug, alcohol, or behavior addiction. It’s common to feel like you’re not getting enough or you’re sleeping too much.
Sleep is a key component when breaking any behavior, alcohol or drug addiction. Just like fitness and nutrition, it’s important to take care of your health by focusing on adequate sleep. In other words, you need to let your body rest.
Sleep is the Body’s Repair Time
The effects of drugs, alcohol addiction, and behaviors often produce sleep loss. Your addiction has likely been taking a toll on your body and most people in active addiction also struggle with addiction-related sleep disturbances. Certain drugs and substances impact sleep quality so it’s not uncommon for individuals who struggle with an addiction also struggle with sleep disturbances or a sleep disorder such as insomnia. When you have sleep issues, your entire body is affected. Your brain needs sleep in order to repair itself and help you turn back to baseline.
Poor Sleep during Withdrawals
In early recovery, the sleep period is often disturbed by withdrawal symptoms. Anyone with any addiction may suffer from withdrawals whether it’s a behavior or substance like cocaine, meth, or alcohol. Opioid withdrawal can be quite intense. A common withdrawal symptom is insufficient sleep. During the withdrawal period it’s common to have vivid dreams and disturbances throughout the night.
The Link Between Sleep and Triggers
One study that was published in the National Institute of Health stated that there is a strong link between sleep disturbances and relapse. Sleep loss can cause your body to become irritated and agitation can lead triggers which could put you at risk of relapse. When you sleep too much, your body doesn’t get the activity it needs to be in a healthy state and this can lead to lack of motivation, depression, or sadness which can also lead to triggers and relapse. The key is to get just the right amount, every single night.
Most people don’t have a healthy sleep schedule and those who are fighting an addiction have it that much harder. That’s why I want to talk to you about how exactly to get a good night’s sleep every night. When you couple this with a healthy diet and fitness, you set yourself up for great success.
How much sleep are you getting now?
The first thing you’ll need to do before changing anything is take inventory. How much are you getting now and is it quality sleep? Does it take you forever to fall asleep? Do you wake up often? Detoxing from substances can impact your sleep as many people who are withdrawing or detoxing report major insomnia. Once you finish with detox though, you should be aiming to get restful sleep.
Keep a Diary
The answers to these questions should be documented over a couple of days. The easiest way to get answers is to use a fitness tracker that logs your sleep. Most fitness trackers are pretty affordable now and very beneficial because you can use it for your nutrition and fitness as well. If you don’t have a fitness tracker then you’ll have to start using a pen and paper – just keep a log next to your bed.
If using a pen and paper it’s impossible to know your exact sleep cycle but that’s okay; when you wake up just try to remember around what time you fell asleep, what time you woke up and if you remember waking up in the middle of the night.
You’ll need a few days in order to calculate some sort of average. Everybody has off nights here and there; that’s normal but what we really want to know is how much you are getting on average and what your natural sleep cycle is like.
It’s important to make a note of how you feel each morning and throughout the day while making a log. Are you feeling refreshed when you wake up, groggy, what about during the day? Do you get tired often? Go ahead and start and log and continue to log your sleep over the next few days. After that: we’ll talk about how much sleep you should be getting.
How much sleep should you be getting?
According to the CDC you should be getting 7-9 hours each night and only waking up once or twice for a few moments, if at all. It shouldn’t take you more than 7-10 minutes to fall asleep and you should find waking up; while yes nobody likes to wake up but it shouldn’t feel impossible.
Once you figure out where you stand, you can then start to make improvements.
Getting the Right Amount
Getting the right amount of sleep isn’t easy and won’t just come naturally. It’s going to take some time and effort to establish better habits to reduce sleep disturbance and we’ll talk about that a little more later.
Depending on how far away you are from getting an average night’s sleep; the time it will take to get there will vary. For example, if you’re getting about 6 hours of sleep, then it shouldn’t take long to make your sleep even better. But if you’re sleeping only 2-3 hours of maybe 12-13 hours per night, it may take a bit longer.
Once you’ve established your baseline and you know where your goal is,making those small improvements each week will be a little easier to do. You wouldn’t just go from getting 2-3 hours per sleep to magically the next night trying to aim for 7 hours.
Do What’s Right for You
Now I’ve heard all the arguments in the world and the most common one is that individuals sometimes feel like they’re getting enough sleep and sleeping more is not how their body works. I mean look at some of the stuff you read online – successful people work 24/7 with very little sleep overall.
I was once listening to a podcast with Oprah and Arrianna huffington ( the founder of huffington post) and Arianna was saying that when HuffPost was getting off the ground she would work around the clock and sleep maybe only a few hours each night. She stated this was her biggest regret. Once she started sleeping she started to make less mistakes and the overall quality kept rising. So don’t let the media fool you into thinking sleeping just a little is normal. It’s not good for you, for your brain or for your body in any way.
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
There are many signs to look for to know if you’re getting too much, too little, or just the right amount of sleep.
Let’s talk about signs of too little sleep because that’s what the vast majority of people experience in general.
First, do you find yourself falling asleep in strange places during the day? The car, the bus, the theatre, at work on your lunch break? If so, you’re not getting enough sleep.
Do you feel groggy, irritated, do you have heavy eyes? What about falling asleep easily while watching TV? When your body isn’t well rested, it’s constantly trying to catch up in any way possible.
Sleeping Too Much?
This is a very real concern especially for those who struggle with addiction. Sleeping too much, especially in the middle of the day can lead to insomnia at night. But if you sleep too much your body isn’t moving or staying as active as it should be. You’re not burning off the calories and it becomes this never ending cycle. You sleep all day, you’re up all night because you slept all day and it goes on and on.
You will Feel the Benefits
Once you start taking your sleep seriously you’ll notice that when you get the right amount of sleep, you don’t become tired during the day. You will feel refreshed every morning and your overall sleeping patterns will be much smoother than when you weren’t sleeping enough.
How Sleep Quality Can Affect Addiction Recovery
The one thing to know when logging your sleep is that the number alone doesn’t mean you’re getting a good night’s sleep. Have you ever slept for 10 hours but felt tired and groggy because you were tossing and turning all night? The link between sleep and substance use disorders is high. According to one study, people who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction are more likely to develop a sleep disorder than someone who is not.
The 5 stages of sleep-wake cycle are: non REM sleep, sleep, sleep, deep sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement.) This is the circadian rhythm your body relies on every 24 hours. Stage 3 and 4 is where all the work and benefits takes place. During the deep sleep stage, your body is repairing and recovering from all the days of stress. This includes REM sleep and also when the human growth hormone is released which is essential to keeping your body healthy and active. If you wake easily throughout the night you are experiencing broken sleep cycles. Every time you wake up, your body has to go through each stage over again. So someone who is getting 10 hours of sleep but is hardly getting to the deep sleep stage is not the same as someone who is getting 5 hours of deep sleep and 4 of those hours are sleeping deeply. This is why it’s important to not just get the right amount of sleep but to make sure you are getting a high quality of sleep.
Benefits and Risks
Sleeping too much and too little can cause an array of health problems. Ironically, sleeping too much or too little can both put you at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Additionally, when you sleep too much you are also at a higher risk for depression, sadness, and you might be feeling even more tired because your body isn’t getting enough physical activity when you sleep too much. It’s a vicious cycle.
The relationship between sleep and mood is strong. When you experience sleep deprivation, lack of sleep, or have poor sleep quality you may experience symptoms such anxiety, agitation, irritation and overall feeling pretty grumpy.
Both sleeping too much and too little puts you at risk for relapse. Why? Well, what do you do when you feel bad? You don’t make good decisions. The goal here is to help you realize how important your sleep is for your recovery so you can feel at your best.
When you have a healthy sleep schedule you literally add years to your life. Longevity has been linked to good sleeping habits. If you combine good nutrition, fitness and sleep, your recovery and ability to beat your addiction for good is at a much higher chance than if you neglect your physical health in any way.
How to Get Better Sleep and Reduce Your Risk of Relapse
Until you’ve reached your sleep goal, you’ll want to keep a journal. There’s lots of things to journal.
I always like to start with talking about what step you can take today to start making progress. Now remember, this process is going to take some time so just be patient.
Now that you know what time you are going to bed, tonight I want you to aim to go to bed 15 minutes earlier. The important thing though is to keep your wake up time the same, even on the weekends.
For example, if you normally go to bed at 1am and wake up at 6am tonight – you will go to bed at 12:45am and wake up at 6am.
Continue to do this every single week until you have established a time where you can reach your goal. For example, let’s say you have a goal of 8 hours (this is pretty normal and average) If you currently go to bed at 1am and wake up at 6am you’re only getting 5 hours of sleep every night. You need to start getting your body used to sleeping more so if you up your bedtime by 15 minutes per week it will take you about 12 weeks to hit the 8 hour mark. If you’re waking up at 6am every day you should have a bedtime around 10pm.
How to get Better Sound Sleep
First thing to do: Set a sleep ritual or a bedtime routine. One to two hours before bedtime, start winding down and then you’ll want to take time every night to establish a routine right before bed. To start this can be as little as 15 minutes but like your bedtime you’ll want to increase this as the weeks go bye. Ideally, bedtime rituals should be about an hour before bed. Include relaxation activities and limit your screen exposure before bedtime. Here’s some examples:
- Create a reading nook and read on a non lit kindle or a book.
- Do some yoga
- Breathing exercises
- Listen to some calming music
- Drink some non-caffeinated tea
Eliminating Sleep Disturbances
If your quality of sleep is affected by waking up multiple times per night check your bedroom for sleep distractions. Perhaps you sleep better with white noise or in cooler temperatures (your body temperature rises while you sleep.) Pay attention to your light exposure. You may need to eliminate any bright light or blue light as well.
Think of this as self-care. This is your team to create some calm and peace in your life that positively affects your circadian rhythm. After everything you’ve been through it’s important that you take some time for yourself. Not only will this help with your mental health but this will also help with your physical health and reduce the chances of relapse. You’ll start to have more energy and combine with fitness and nutrition your body is going to thank you. Be patient with yourself as you work through this. It takes time to get it right.
Are sleep AIDS okay? answer: no
A lot of people rely on sleep aids or sleeping pills to fall asleep. I do not recommend this. You are fighting a drug, alcohol or behavior addiction so it’s important to not trade one addiction for another. Sleep aids are often addictive substances as well. If you’re addicted to sleeping pills it’s important to fight both addictions at once. If you do rely on sleep aids, start tapering yourself off now. At first, you’re going to have a really hard time sleeping but if you stick to a routine, establish good sleeping habits and a good ritual it won’t be long before your body will start to understand.
If you are thinking about taking sleep aids because you are having a hard time falling and staying asleep; don’t. The negative effects from this can be catastrophic and can cause even more sleep disruption later down the road. Follow this plan, stick with a good diet, and exercise regime and you will be able to obtain unassisted sleep naturally. I say this though but I do know there are healthy non-addictive natural sleep aids you can try if you really feel like you need to : melatonin for example. But use caution and always contact your doctor before doing so.
When to talk to your doctor
Sometimes no matter how much you try, getting the right amount of sleep seems impossible. There are medical conditions that cause people to sleep too much or cause insomnia as well as some medications may play a role. I recommend giving it 12 solid weeks of sticking to this sleep plan along with getting good exercise and eating healthy. If after 12 weeks you’re still struggling with your sleep or have insomnia then it’s important to call your doctor. There may be some sort of underlying medical condition such as sleep apnea or brain disease, that you’re unaware of. Chronic (long-term) sleep difficulties need medical attention.
Substance Abuse and Sleep Deprivation
The relationship between substance abuse disorders and proper sleep is strong. Getting the right amount of restful sleep is crucial when in recovery from addiction and is where the healing process starts. People in recovery need to practice good sleep hygiene in order to be successful in the overall recovery process. The relationship between sleep and relapse among persons who struggle with addiction is strong especially when chronic sleep deprivation is involved. Keeping a sleep journal of your recovery journey and sleep habits is highly recommended.
Finding the Right Program
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder or any behavioral addiction, check out Live Rehab. Our online addiction recovery program allows you to obtain a full recovery on your terms. Traditional treatment programs may not be for everyone. Whether you struggle with alcohol addiction, substance abuse or any addictive behavior we know how important it is to get the help without having to leave to go to an expensive treatment center. Flexible treatment options are available.