Sleeping Well During Recovery

The weeks and months during and after drug and alcohol treatment and rehab aren’t easy, and sleep problems can make things even tougher for people in recovery. Insomnia, accompanied by restlessness, tossing and turning, frequent waking, racing thoughts, nightmares and anxiety may happen occasionally, or they may be nightly events that last for days, weeks, or even months.

According to the Journal of Addiction Medicine, insomnia is five times more prevalent among people in recovery than the general population. Although insomnia occurs frequently with any type of addiction, alcoholism is the most common contributing factor, affecting up to three-quarters of all alcoholics following detox.

Sleep difficulties, which can significantly increase the risk of relapse, should always be taken seriously. Long-term insomnia can not only threaten recovery, but have potential to cause a long list of physical and mental problems, including severe exhaustion, depression, anxiety, irritability, cloudy thinking, high blood pressure and weight gain. Without adequate rest, you are more accident prone and more susceptible to cold, flu, and other illnesses.

Substance Abuse and Insomnia

All too frequently, addiction begins when people turn to various substances to help them sleep, and alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, is the biggest offender. People who have a drink or two to relax at bedtime often find that they wake frequently during the night and need another drink or two to get back to sleep.

Benzodiazepines such as Valium or Ativan and other medications frequently prescribed for anxiety may provide short-term relief, but they can quickly become addictive. Sleep problems typically get much worse once the drugs are stopped.

Opoid painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin may cause drowsiness, but sleep is usually not restful. Long-term use of painkillers can cause sleep apnea, a dangerous condition that may cause high blood pressure, migraine headaches, memory loss, oxygen deprivation and death.

Stimulants such as cocaine or meth can also create tremendous problems because they make you feel wide awake and alert even when your body is in serious need of a good night’s sleep. Even coffee and other caffeinated beverages can interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Treatment for Insomnia and other Sleep Problems

In the early days of drug and alcohol treatment and rehab, it takes considerable time to relearn the process of sleeping naturally. Counselors use various techniques such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), a highly effective form of therapy that helps people in treatment learn to examine and change negative thought patterns and unrealistic attitudes about sleep.

Biofeedback and mindfulness meditation are beneficial treatments that help people gain better control over physical responses, combat stress and calm the body and mind.

Melatonin, a natural hormone involved in the body’s sleep/wake cycle is useful for many people. Although it is considered safe and is available over the counter, it shouldn’t be used without a physician’s guidance.

Prescription medications aren’t typically used for people in treatment for addiction, although they may be prescribed in certain conditions. Such medications are carefully monitored and used for very short periods of time.

Learning Healthy Sleep Habits

If you’re in recovery, see a medical provider if your sleep difficulties continue. Tell your physician you are in treatment so she doesn’t inadvertently prescribe medication that may threaten your success.

If you’re struggling with sleep difficulties during recovery, it may also help to learn a few healthy sleep habits:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • So something relaxing before bed. Read a book, take a warm bath, listen to calming music, enjoy a cup of chamomile tea.
  • Be careful about eating too close to bedtime, as being too full or too hungry can keep you awake. Eat dinner a few hours before bedtime. If you’re hungry, have a light, high-protein snack to tide you over until morning.
  • Exercise every day, but avoid vigorous exercise before bedtime. A walk in the fresh air may be just the thing to help you feel relaxed.
  • Keep things dark and quiet at bedtime. Leave your cell phone in another room and turn off the TV and computer. If sounds keep you awake, consider a fan or a machine that makes white noise. If light bothers you, get some heavy, light-blocking curtains.
  • Don’t stay in bed if you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, or if you can’t get back to sleep after waking up. Get up and read or listen to relaxing music.
  • Spend a moment thinking about gratitude before you go to sleep every night. Recalling even simple events like a phone call from a friend, a sunny day or a compliment at work can help clear your mind, making you feel happier and more peaceful.

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