One of the most repeated pieces of advice that people in addiction recovery receive is to make sure they get enough sleep. The acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is often used to remind recovering individuals of the basic needs that must be addressed to ensure continued sobriety. Unfortunately, being told to sleep doesn’t make it easy to do. Sleep issues are common in recovery.
Sleep Issues Can Last a Long Time
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), many people struggle with getting enough sleep or a good quality of sleep, not only during withdrawal but sometimes even for months or years after they get clean.
Specific Sleep Issues
People in recovery can struggle with a variety of sleep related issues, SAMHSA reports, including:
- Taking a long time to fall asleep
- Being unable to stay asleep
- Disturbances to sleep cycles
- Being tired during the day
Addressing Sleep Disruptions
While being in recovery can cause sleep difficulties, factors such as stress, medications, or life situations can also contribute. Regardless of the cause of sleeping difficulties, several techniques can help. SAMHSA recommends the following:
- Meditation – This helps to relax the mind and quiet the mental noise that can keep us awake.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This involves systematically tensing and relaxing groups of muscles until the whole body is fully relaxed and prepared for sleep.
- Biofeedback – Biofeedback therapy teaches us to notice the cues our bodies are giving us and to have more control over our ability to relax.
- Exercise – This can tire us out, and it also prompts our brains to create the chemicals it needs for good sleep.
- Bright Light Therapy – Being exposed to bright light during waking hours helps the brain to associate darkness with sleep and get back into more regular sleep patterns.
- Staying on a schedule – Having a set time to wake up and fall asleep every day allows the body and brain to get into a rhythm, which makes it easier to get the rest that is needed.
Sacred Sleeping Space
Many people get into the habit of watching TV, paying bills, or using electronics in bed. SAMHSA warns against this, especially for people who struggle to get enough sleep or good quality sleep. When the bedroom is reserved for sleep (and sex), the brain comes to associate going to the bedroom with winding down and getting rest.
Taking this one step further, the bedroom itself can also be made into a better sleeping environment. Experts at Harvard University recommend the following ways to make a bedroom more sleep-friendly:
- Lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance.
- Block out light with heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask.
- Keep the temperature slightly cool, between 60 and 75°F.
- Ensure the room is well ventilated.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Consider keeping pets out of the bedroom if they wake you at night.
Other Tips for Good Sleep
Other ideas suggested by the Harvard Division of Sleep Medicine include:
- Avoiding caffeine and nicotine for the four to six hours before bed.
- Having a restful routine to help get your mind ready for sleep. If you’ve ever had a baby or toddler, you might have given them a bath, then read them a story before tucking them in. The adult equivalent can include reading, journaling, meditation, and other calming activities.
- Don’t have difficult discussions about emotional topics right before bed, as this is likely to make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Don’t stare at the clock. It will only make you more stressed. Turn the clock face away from you if needed.
- Keep naps short and early in the day or don’t take them at all.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the day.
Using Therapy to Address Sleep Disturbances
While a person might not automatically assume that therapy is the best way to resolve issues with their sleep, the Mayo Clinic strongly supports cognitive behavioral therapy as a means of treating sleep issues. This is especially true for people in recovery, for whom sleep medications are generally not recommended. Because CBT has no known adverse side effects, it is generally a better choice. There is even a specific branch of CBT that specializes in addressing sleep issues, CBT-I (Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia). Mayo suggests utilizing the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Website to locate practitioners of CBT-I.
We Can Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, in Portsmouth, Virginia, we understand how important sleep is. If you are having difficulty sleeping, it is important not to suffer in silence. Be sure to share this information with your treatment team, so that they can support you in finding a resolution to this issue.