Insomnia during Withdrawal: Strategies to Help You Sleep

Insomnia is a common withdrawal symptom for people detoxing from drugs or alcohol. It’s particularly problematic for those in the early stages of recovery as their bodies begin to function without mood-altering chemicals. Those individuals are up to five times more likely to have trouble sleeping than the average population.

Woman Sitting Up in Bed

Lack of proper sleep can elevate anxiety and lead to poor concentration and overall tiredness—none of which are helpful to continued, sustained recovery. If insomnia is not addressed, it may directly contribute to a relapse. Thankfully, insomnia usually lessens as individuals remain on the path towards healing.

In the meantime, however, here are a handful of healthy sleep habits that can help you to get some rest and prepare you for continued success during recovery:

Commit to a Sleep Schedule

Evaluate how much sleep you need and decide on a bedtime that allows enough sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps your body establish your circadian rhythm or internal clock. The more consistent you are, the easier it will become to go to sleep and wake up on your schedule. Try to resist the urge to sleep in as you work on setting this pattern.

Cultivate an Environment that’s Conducive to Sleep

Try to make your bedroom as cozy as possible—make it a place that you look forward to sleeping in. Treat this space like a sleep sanctuary so that you begin associating your bedroom with sleep and begin to fall asleep faster. Comfortable pillows, soft blankets, warm lighting, and maybe even calming paint colors, will all help you positively associate the space with sleep.

Put away your devices, like your laptop and cell phone, and leave them outside if you can. They emit blue light and stimulate your brain, keeping you awake by reducing melatonin production. If you must use electronics in your bedroom, operate them in night mode so that you won’t be subjected to as much blue light.

woman in bed looking at phone

In keeping with the idea of limiting light at night, consider putting up blackout curtains. Most bedrooms are too bright at night, which interferes with the quality of your sleep. If you can see your hand before your face when you turn off the light, your bedroom isn’t dark enough.

Establish a Soothing Nighttime Routine

Craft a nighttime ritual that prepares you for sleep. Focus on things that calm and relax you, like a nightly bath. Incorporate half an hour of reading, listening to calming music, or whatever prepares you for sleep. Again, avoid looking at a screen for at least 30 minutes before bed so your mind can relax and you can get ready to sleep. Consider investing in a pair of amber-tinted glasses and wearing them an hour or two before bed as they may improve sleep quality.

Pay Attention to What and When you Eat or Drink

Nicotine and caffeine act as stimulants, and smoking or drinking caffeinated beverages makes it harder for most people to go to sleep for 4-6 hours afterwards. Also, plan to eat so that you won’t be uncomfortably hungry or full at bedtime. Finish drinking 2-3 hours before bed to limit nighttime bathroom visits.

Exercise

Several studies have shown that exercise contributes to better sleep. Picking a physical activity, and sticking to it can help you fall asleep more quickly, get more rest and wake with more energy. The logic is that if you exercise, you expend more energy so that you’re exhausted at the end of the day. This helps you to sleep more deeply, which can boost your immune system, improve heart health, and lower stress and anxiety.

Limit Naps

Ideally, skip naps if you can—they can mess up your circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to fall asleep when you’re ready for bed. If you must nap, keep it short—no more than 30 minutes.

Avoid Clock-Watching

If you can turn the clock away from you as you’re trying to fall asleep, do that. Watching the clock can stress you out and increase levels of anxiety. If it takes you longer than 20 minutes for you to fall asleep, get out of bed and do something that calms or relaxes you as you wait to feel more tired.

man sitting on bed looking at clock

Conclusion

Sleep is essential, and insomnia can derail the recovery of even the most committed individuals. Lack of deep, restorative sleep cascades and over time becomes increasingly difficult to manage. As newly recovering individuals grapple with withdrawal, implementing strategies to help with insomnia can be vital in decreasing stress and preventing relapse. Healthy sleep habits can go a long way in treating insomnia and getting you more and better sleep as your body detoxes and withdraws.

About the Author

Paula Nicola, M.D.
Dr. Nicola is the Facility Director at Renu. She is a trained and board certified medical doctor with specialized training in addiction medicine.

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