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Insomnia in Recovery


A common problem that people can face in early recovery is insomnia. This inability to sleep can make life a bit uncomfortable, and the individual may find that it impairs their concentration. The reality is that sleep is vital to good mental health, so lack of it can prevent the individual from finding comfort in sobriety. The good news is that it is nearly always possible to sort out these sleep issues.

Causes of Insomnia in Recovery

There are a number of common reasons for why people may be dealing with insomnia in early recovery, such as:

  • The individual is likely to have withdrawal symptoms due to quitting alcohol and drugs, and these symptoms can cause discomfort. The individual may find it hard to settle at night because of this discomfort.
  • Some individuals can suffer from post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) and these can last for up to a year, but they decrease over time
  • When people are involved in substance abuse, they will often keep irregular hours where they will go to bed at different times. This means that it can take a bit of time in recovery before the individual is able to develop a more regular sleeping pattern. Any change in the usual sleeping pattern can trigger insomnia.
  • There are certain medications that can cause insomnia, and if the individual feels that these are the cause of the problem, he or she will need to speak to their doctor.
  • One of the most common causes of insomnia is stress. Giving up alcohol and drugs is a significant challenge, so it is understandable that people are going to feel at least a little stressed. Life in recovery will soon get easier, and there are things that the person can do to bring their stress levels down in the meantime.
  • If the individual has been abusing stimulant type drugs, these are renowned for causing insomnia. It may take a bit of time before the individual will develop a regular sleep pattern.
  • When people give up alcohol or drugs, they will often have many worries and concerns. This can leave them tossing and turning at night. This is why it is so important to engage in activities that will help reduce anxiety levels.
  • If the individual is staying in a rehab, they may find it hard to relax at first in this environment. This can be particularly true if sharing a room with somebody who snores.

The Dangers of Insomnia

Insomnia can be dangerous to people in recovery for a number of reasons including:

  • It can lead to problems with concentration and memory. It is common for people in recovery to have to deal with a “fuzzy” brain, and lack of sleep can exacerbate the problem.
  • It can mean that the individual does not feel like doing anything. This is a real danger for people in recovery because boredom is a common relapse trigger.
  • When people are tired it will usually mean that they are full of negativity. This means that the person may find life in recovery to be unsatisfying.
  • The individual may use these feelings of tiredness as an excuse to relapse back to addiction. The individual fails to appreciate that this is just a short-term problem.
  • In order to build a strong recovery the individual will need to take certain actions. If they are too tired, they may fail to take the actions that they need to take in order to establish themselves in sobriety.
  • Excessive tiredness can lead to dry drunk syndrome. This means that although the person is physically sober, they continue to act in many ways as if they were still drinking or using drugs.
  • If the individual is inactive, they may begin to put on weight.
  • It can lead to symptoms of depression.
  • Lack of sleep can cause people to experience hallucinations.

How to Deal with Insomnia in Early Recovery

There are a number of things that people can do in order to deal with insomnia in early recovery, such as:

  • It is important not to become too obsessed with this inability to sleep because this can lead to increased stress, which will exacerbate the problem. This is easier said than done, but it can help to understand that this is just a temporary problem, and that it is unlikely to lead to any lasting harm.
  • Completely avoid any caffeine drinks in the last four hours before going to bed.
  • Establish a regular sleeping pattern and stick to this routine. This means that the individual needs to go to bed at a certain time and get out of bed at a certain time. It is vital that the individual sticks to this time or it will be difficult to develop any type of pattern. There may be a few sleepless nights in the beginning but things will settle down.
  • It is better to avoid using sleeping tablets if possible. The problem with using these is that the individual may become dependent on them. During the initial detox, the physician may prescribe this type of medication, and this is not a problem for a limited time. It is just long-term reliance on sedatives that can be more of a problem.
  • Going for a walk can help people sleep better at night. In fact, any type of exercise is good for this.
  • It is best to avoid the bedroom completely unless going there to sleep. This is because the individual can begin to associate being in the bedroom with being awake when they want to associate being there and being asleep.
  • It is not a good idea to have a TV or any other type of entertainment in the bedroom as this just encourages people to stay awake.
  • Activities such as meditation and light yoga can be great for helping people to go to sleep. There are also specific relaxation techniques that can be used to promote sleep.

It is not a good idea to lie in bed awake. If people cannot sleep then it is best to get out of bed and do something else before returning to bed to see if they can then sleep.

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