November 21, 2023

Building Healthy Sleep Habits in Addiction Recovery

Quality sleep reduces addiction relapse risk. Learn strategies for building healthy sleep habits in addiction recovery.

Sleep Habits in Addiction Recovery

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Julie Miller

Addiction & Mental Health Writer

Last Update on November 24, 2023

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Building healthy sleep habits is a crucial aspect of the addiction recovery journey.

Adequate and quality sleep significantly affects physical healing, emotional well-being, and cognitive functioning.

In the context of addiction recovery, sleep becomes even more critical as it’s a time when both the body and mind repair themselves, which is especially vital for those recovering from substance abuse.

This article emphasizes the strong connection between quality rest and reduced risk of relapse, providing valuable insights and strategies for developing better sleep patterns, which is essential to achieving lasting recovery from addiction.

Understanding Sleep and Its Importance

What is Sleep?

Understanding the significance of sleep to our overall health and well-being is crucial.

Sleep is not just a time for rest; it’s a complex biological process that actively supports vital physiological and psychological functions.1

This process is governed by the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm, which responds to environmental cues like light and darkness.

Sleep unfolds in multiple stages that are characterized by unique brain activity patterns.

These stages include non-REM sleep, which progresses from light to deep sleep, and REM sleep, known for vivid dreams, which plays a significant role in memory consolidation and emotional processing.

The Stages of Sleep:

Sleep Stage:Function:
Non-REM Stage 1Transition from wakefulness to sleep, light sleep
Non-REM Stage 2Light sleep, body temperature drops, heart rate slows
Non-REM Stage 3Deep sleep, essential for feeling refreshed
REM SleepDreaming, brain activity increases, memory consolidation

The Restorative Power of Sleep:

Getting enough sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health.

While we sleep, our body goes through essential repair and rejuvenation processes.

These processes include strengthening our immune system, repairing tissues, and consolidating memories.

Sleep also significantly affects brain functions, impacting cognitive abilities such as learning, problem-solving, and emotional regulation.

On the other hand, chronic sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can cause serious health problems, including an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Therefore, it is not just beneficial but essential to maintain good sleep hygiene for our health and daily functioning.

By understanding these fundamental aspects of sleep, we recognize its critical role as a restful break and an integral component of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Sleep Challenges in Early Recovery

Common Sleep Problems in Early Recovery:

Individuals in early recovery from addiction may experience a range of sleep problems that can cause significant challenges.

Insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep, is one of the most common issues.

It may result from the body adjusting to the absence of substances that previously influenced sleep patterns.

Additionally, people in recovery may experience disrupted sleep cycles, leading to less restorative sleep.

Nightmares or vivid dreams are also frequent, mainly as the brain changes its REM patterns during recovery.

These sleep disturbances can be distressing and exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress, potentially impacting the overall recovery process.

Proper sleep hygiene, therapy, and sometimes medical intervention are crucial for addressing these sleep problems and supporting a successful and sustainable recovery journey.

Early Recovery Sleep Challenges and Strategies:

Sleep Challenge: Details and Strategies:
Insomnia Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Establish a regular sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, limit screen time before bed
Disrupted Sleep Cycle Irregular sleep patterns, non-restorative sleep
Maintain a consistent sleep-wake time, avoid caffeine and naps late in the day, get morning sunlight exposure
Nightmares or Vivid Dreams Disturbing dreams leading to sleep disruption
Practice stress-reducing techniques before bed, create a comfortable sleep environment, consider professional counseling if persistent
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) Uncomfortable sensations in legs, urge to move
Regular exercise, avoid alcohol and caffeine, practice relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation
Sleep Apnea Interrupted breathing during sleep
Weight management, avoid alcohol and sedatives before sleep, consider medical evaluation for potential CPAP therapy

The Connection Between Addiction and Poor Sleep Habits

Effects of Addiction on Sleep Patterns and Quality:

Addiction can have a significant impact on a person’s sleep patterns and quality.

This can present a range of sleep-related challenges that differ depending on the substance that is being abused.

Stimulants, for example, often lead to prolonged wakefulness followed by a crash, which can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Depressants, on the other hand, can induce sleep but interfere with the normal progression of sleep stages.

Even after stopping substance use, these disruptions can persist as the body works to reestablish normal sleep patterns.

Substance abuse also alters the architecture of sleep.

For instance, alcohol can cause drowsiness, but it disrupts REM sleep, which is crucial for memory and mood regulation.

Opiates and benzodiazepines, on the other hand, suppress REM sleep, leading to fragmented and non-restorative sleep.

Insomnia and other sleep disorders are common among individuals with addiction, and they often persist during recovery, making it challenging to maintain sobriety.

A study conducted by Conroy, Arnedt, and Brower in 2008 highlights the importance of addressing these sleep disturbances.2

Effective treatment can significantly reduce the risk of relapse.

Improving sleep quality and resolving sleep disorders are essential for enhancing overall well-being and aiding recovery.

This emphasizes the need for integrated treatment approaches that address both sleep and addiction issues concurrently.

Different Substances and their Effects on Sleep-Wake Cycles:

Substance:Effect on Sleep-Wake Cycles:
AlcoholInduces drowsiness but disrupts REM sleep, leading to fragmented, non-restorative sleep.3
CaffeineStimulant that can delay the onset of sleep and reduce total sleep time and quality.
NicotineStimulant effects can cause difficulty falling asleep and increased sleep fragmentation.
OpiatesCan induce drowsiness but suppress REM sleep, resulting in disturbed, non-restorative sleep.
CannabisMay aid in falling asleep but can suppress REM sleep and affect sleep quality over time.
Stimulants (e.g., cocaine, amphetamines)Lead to prolonged wakefulness and severely disrupt normal sleep-wake cycles.
BenzodiazepinesInduce drowsiness but can lead to changes in sleep architecture and non-restorative sleep.

Special Considerations for Young Recovering Addicts

Addressing Unique Challenges in Young Recovering Addicts:

Young individuals who are recovering from addiction face unique challenges that are different from those faced by adults who are in a similar situation.

The impact of substance abuse on their developing brains and bodies is a primary concern because adolescents and young adults are in a crucial phase of neurological and psychological development.

Substance abuse can significantly disrupt this process, potentially leading to long-term negative consequences.

Moreover, young people are more vulnerable to peer pressure and face social challenges in maintaining sobriety, especially in environments where substance use is common.

They require specialized support systems tailored to their age, developmental stage, and individual circumstances, including family involvement in treatment, age-appropriate support groups, and educational interventions focusing on recovery and life skills.

Navigating Sleep Challenges and Developmental Impacts:

Sleep challenges in young recovering addicts are often more complex due to the interplay between developmental changes and the effects of substance abuse.

Adolescents typically experience shifts in their circadian rhythms, leading to later sleep and wake times.

Substance abuse can exacerbate these shifts, causing significant disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle.

These young individuals might struggle with irregular sleep patterns, insomnia, or hypersomnia, affecting their performance in school, work, and daily life.

It is crucial to tailor approaches to address these sleep issues by considering their unique biological and lifestyle needs, such as adjusting school or work schedules to better align with their natural rhythms and promoting healthy sleep hygiene practices.

Additionally, addiction can profoundly impact the developmental sleep patterns of young people.

Significant brain changes occur during adolescence, including developing pathways related to reward, motivation, and impulse control.

Substance abuse, particularly alcohol and marijuana, can suppress REM sleep, which is vital for memory and learning.

This can lead to sleep disturbances that can worsen mood disorders, diminish cognitive abilities, and affect academic performance.

Therefore, recovery efforts for young individuals must focus on restoring healthy sleep patterns, potentially involving behavioral interventions, sleep education, and, when necessary, pharmacological treatments under medical supervision.

Strategies for Improving Sleep in Recovery

Improving sleep quality during addiction recovery is crucial, as highlighted by Lydon-Staley et al. (2017).4

The study found a clear link between poor sleep quality and increased patient cravings.

This connection underscores the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy sleep practices as part of the recovery process.

Tips for Establishing a Healthy Sleep Routine:

A key aspect of maintaining good sleep hygiene is establishing a regular sleep schedule.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate the body’s internal clock.

It’s also essential to create a bedtime routine promoting relaxation, such as reading or taking a warm bath, which can signal the body that it’s time to wind down.

Our bedroom environment should be comfortable and conducive to sleep, with controlled temperature, comfortable bedding, and minimal light and noise.

We can consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or white noise machines if necessary.

Additionally, reducing screen time before bed is crucial as the blue light emitted from devices can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.

Relaxation Techniques and Sleep Hygiene Practices:

Various techniques can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation before bedtime.

These techniques include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation.

Regularly practicing these techniques can make it easier to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.

Managing stress through daytime activities is also crucial since high-stress levels can significantly impact sleep.

Diet, Exercise, and Environmental Factors in Promoting Sleep:

Our diet largely influences the quality of our sleep.

To avoid disruptions in our sleep, we should avoid consuming caffeine and heavy meals in the evening.

Regular physical activity can also promote better sleep, but avoiding vigorous exercise close to bedtime is best.

Following these strategies can significantly enhance our sleep quality, a vital component of successful recovery.

Prioritizing good sleep hygiene can help individuals in recovery reduce cravings and support their overall health and well-being.

Strategies/Tips for Improving Sleep in Recovery
1. Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath.
3. Make your sleeping environment comfortable, quiet, dark, and cool.
4. Limit exposure to screens before bedtime to reduce blue light interference.
5. Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, especially in the evening.
6. Include physical activity in your daily routine, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
7. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to ease into sleep.
8. Avoid large meals, alcohol, and heavy fluids close to bedtime.
9. If unable to sleep, engage in a quiet activity away from bed until feeling sleepy.
10. If sleep problems persist, consider seeking advice from a healthcare professional.

Overcoming Obstacles to Good Sleep

Managing Setbacks and Strategies for Overcoming Them:

Setbacks in sleep patterns are common, but they can be managed with proactive strategies.

If you find yourself struggling with insomnia or disrupted sleep, it’s important not to panic or become frustrated, as this can exacerbate the problem.

Instead, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even if rest seems elusive.

If you can’t sleep, engage in a quiet, relaxing activity away from the bed until you feel sleepy.

Avoid napping during the day, as this can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Sometimes, the issue may be linked to a particular habit or environmental factor, so assessing and modifying these elements is helpful.

If problems persist, consulting a healthcare professional can provide tailored strategies and rule out underlying sleep disorders.

Stress and Anxiety Management in Relation to Sleep:

Stress and anxiety are major contributors to sleep disturbances.

Managing these effectively is key to achieving restful sleep.

Techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce stress and anxiety levels before bedtime.

Establishing a calming pre-sleep routine helps transition the mind and body into a more conducive sleep state.

Regular physical activity is another effective tool, as it can alleviate stress and improve sleep quality and overall mood.

For those who find their thoughts racing at bedtime, journaling or practicing cognitive behavioral techniques can help manage worrisome thoughts.

In cases where stress and anxiety are overwhelming, seeking support from a therapist or counselor can be beneficial in developing more effective coping mechanisms.

Incorporating these strategies into daily life can significantly improve sleep quality and help overcome the common obstacles to good sleep.

It’s important to remember that occasional sleep disturbances are normal.

Still, consistent effort and use of these techniques can improve sleep and overall well-being.

Long-Term Sleep Management

Establishing and maintaining healthy sleep habits is crucial for maintaining our overall health and well-being, especially for those who have faced sleep disturbances or are recovering from addiction.

To sustain these benefits in the long run, one may need to make lifestyle and mindset changes and consistently manage their sleep.

Here are some examples of lifestyle changes:

Lifestyle Habit Before and After
Sleep Schedule Before: Irregular, late nights
After: Regular, consistent timing
Diet Before: High in processed foods
After: Rich in whole foods
Physical Activity Before: Minimal or sporadic
After: Regular and structured
Stress Management Before: Infrequent attention
After: Regular practices (e.g., meditation)
Hydration Before: Inconsistent, often low
After: Adequate daily water intake

Role of Ongoing Support and Resources:

The role of ongoing support and resources is crucial in long-term sleep management.

This includes access to support groups, healthcare professionals, or therapists, especially for those recovering from addiction or dealing with chronic stress and anxiety.

Educating oneself about sleep and staying updated on new research and techniques is also essential.

Some people find sleep-tracking devices or apps helpful in identifying areas for improvement.

If sleep disturbances persist, seeking professional help can lead to personalized strategies and interventions.

Ongoing support helps in managing sleep disturbances and promoting a lifestyle that supports healthy sleep as a component of overall well-being.

It’s important to remember that managing sleep is dynamic and requires adaptation and resilience.

Staying informed, seeking support when needed, and being proactive about sleep health is key to maintaining good sleep habits over the long term.

Mastering Sleep for Long-Term Health and Sobriety

Getting good sleep is an essential part of addiction recovery as it helps in physical restoration and mental resilience.

If you are still struggling with addiction or facing sleep issues, keep in mind that every effort towards better sleep is a step towards a healthier and more balanced life.

Your journey may be difficult, but with each night of restful sleep, you are building a solid foundation for your path toward recovery and well-being.

Stay hopeful and persistent, and your efforts will lead to brighter days.

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Author & Reviewers

julie miller recovery writer and author
Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s treatment facilities in Arizona. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges, he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of conditions.

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