Sleep disruption is a common problem when stress, mental health issues, and/or medical ailments are at play. When in recovery for drug abuse and addiction, these issues are commonly present.
Unfortunately, disrupted sleep can have a negative impact on all areas of life, which in turn makes it even more difficult to get restorative and restful sleep. Without intervention and care, it is an ongoing cycle. The good news is that there are a number of options available to help you sleep better at night, and none of them require that you take potentially addictive medications. Here’s what you need to know.
Is Sleep Part of the Problem?
Though there are likely a number of factors at play during recovery that may seem to hinder your ability to live a stable life without drugs and alcohol, sleep is very often one of the primary issues. There are a number of signs that a lack of restful, regular sleep is negatively impacting your ability to stay happy, balanced, and focused in recovery. They include:
- Frequent acute illness (e.g., colds)
- Low energy
- Frequent snacking
- Lack of decisiveness
When you are without the sleep you need, it can impair your ability to maintain stable moods and make positive and clear decisions. It may even mean that you eat more in an attempt to make up for your lack of energy.
Drug Use and Sleep
Whether the drugs of choice are sedatives or opiates that have a “downer” effect and make you feel more tired, or the drug of choice is a stimulant that decreases the urge and ability to sleep for days on end, ongoing drug use can impact frequency and quality of sleep. Additionally, even if substances may cause an increased urge to sleep (e.g., alcohol, marijuana, sleeping pills, etc.), this often amounts to little more than “passing out,” which is not the same as restorative sleep and does not provide the body with the same opportunity to rest, repair, and heal.
In recovery, removal of these substances can mean a backlash effect. That is, if it felt like you were often “nodding out” or tired during active addiction, you may experience insomnia in recovery. Similarly, if you routinely were wide awake due to stimulant drug use, then you may experience a huge drop in energy levels and have a hard time getting out of bed.
Neither of these is ideal, but it is normal for a time as your body begins the process of recuperating from active drug use. The good news is that there are positive changes you can make to help yourself move toward a more balanced sleeping regimen.
Tire Yourself out by Bedtime
If you have low energy, you are less likely to feel tired when it is time to go to bed, so it is recommended that you get a good workout every day to help your body burn energy positively. Regular cardiovascular workouts that boost your heart rate are a good way to get started, and weight-bearing exercises can also serve to tire you out while keeping you healthy.
Start by going for a walk for 20 minutes a day and then incorporating jogging into some of that time until you are jogging for a full 20 minutes, or do another cardio exercise you enjoy that gets your heart going. Additionally, add in 10 minutes of weight-bearing exercises at the gym; this can mean using free weights or your own body weight. Do some exercises to strengthen your back and core muscles every day, and alternate doing leg and arm workouts every other day.
In the hours before bedtime, you can help your body and brain prepare for sleep by avoiding activities that can serve to stimulate your brain and make it harder to shut down. Try to avoid:
- Use of electronics: This means TV, computer screens, phone screens, and even electronic reading devices like Kindles and Nooks. Even though reading can help you to slow down and fall asleep, make sure you have an actual book in hand.
- Exercise: While it’s a great idea to work out during the day, working out right before bed makes it harder for your body to wind down. Do your heavy workouts during the day instead.
- Smoke: Smoking anytime is bad for your health, but nicotine is a stimulant substance and should be avoided before bed.
- Eat: When you eat a big meal before bed, your body must process it, which means that it is harder to shut down and get good sleep.
Ritual and Calm
If removing any of the above behaviors leaves you with a gaping hole in your schedule, consider adding in all those activities that are healthy and you may have been meaning to try but have not been able to find the time. Create a calming ritual that helps you unwind and destress at night as you get ready for bed. This routine may include any combination of the following:
Additionally, continued engagement with drug addiction treatment and mental health treatment will help to lower overall stress levels. Ongoing treatment is also a good idea to help manage any anxiety or obsessive thoughts you may struggle with that keep you up at night.
What do you need to improve your sleep and give your recovery a boost?