Addiction Disrupts the Natural Sleep Cycle: Addressing Sleep Problems during Treatment

Restful sleep is fundamental to health and wellbeing, yet a good night’s sleep is often out of reach for individuals in early recovery. A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates that approximately three-quarters of recovering alcoholics report sleep problems after detox. Problems for those recovering from addiction to drugs such as prescription meds, stimulant drugs and heroin can be just as severe.

Sleep disturbances, including pronounced insomnia, fragmented sleep or waking too early often resolve after a few weeks, but can sometimes last much longer – dragging on for months or even years. As a result, people in the early stages of recovery may struggle with fatigue, irritability, daytime sleepiness, anxiety and difficulty concentrating.

Insomnia and other sleep problems can be life-draining for anybody. For people in recovery, sleep disturbances can significantly increase the risk of relapse. NIH notes that alcoholics with insomnia are more than twice as likely to relapse then individuals in recovery

Addressing Sleep Problems Improves Chances of Long-Term Recovery

Insomnia and other sleep disturbances should always be integrated into drug and alcohol treatment and rehab. Sleep difficulties are common and often to be expected while the brain repairs itself from years of addiction. However, they should never be taken lightly, as ongoing sleep problems cannot only trigger relapse, but can also increase risk of car accidents, depression, headaches, weight gain, and even diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.

Drugs and alcohol interfere with the body’s circadian rhythms, which are governed by an internal biological clock that moderates the wake-sleep cycle, as well as production of hormones and other functions. People who use drugs and alcohol heavily over an extended period of time can find their sleep-wake cycle completely destroyed.

Re-establishing a healthy sleep-wake cycle can be a lot of work, but regular sleep is well worth the effort. Treatment may involve the following:

Strict schedule – Adjusting the body’s internal clock requires adherence to a rigid schedule that requires getting up and going to bed at a specific time every day. Healthy meals, exercise and other activities are also carefully scheduled.

Supplementation – Various supplements can help regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. For example, careful dosages of melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by the brain, have been proven to reduce time required to fall asleep, increase sleep time and improve alertness during waking hours. Similarly, GABA, a hormone also produced naturally in the brain, has a calming affect that can induce sedation, relieve anxiety and help adjust the sleep-wake cycle.

Light Therapy – Exposure to special bright lights at a certain time each day is often implemented to help regulate sleep-wake cycles by shifting circadian rhythms and resetting the internal clock. This is similar to therapy frequently used to help people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Counseling – Various therapeutic techniques can help with sleep problems caused by excessive worry or other faulty thought processes. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help people identify negative thought patterns and replace those thoughts with more constructive ways of reacting to stress.

Relaxation – Other techniques may include techniques such as mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.

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