Getting plenty of quality sleep is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. This is especially important if you’re recovering from a substance use disorder.
Many studies have linked sleep deprivation with both short-term and long-term problems. Short-term problems include increased anxiety, poor concentration, poor working memory, and less self-control.
Long-term problems include increased risk of anxiety disorders and depression. One meta-analysis of more than 170,000 participants found that insomnia significantly increases your risk for depression.
If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, there’s a high probability that you already have issues with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges. Therefore, it’s especially important to look after your mental health by getting enough sleep.
Unfortunately, getting enough sleep is not always so easy. Insomnia is often a symptom of mental health issues as well as a cause.
What’s more, insomnia is a typical withdrawal symptom and it may persist for weeks or months into recovery. If you’ve been having trouble getting enough sleep, here are some tips that might help.
Talk to Your Doctor
First, if you can’t sleep or if you feel like you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep every night but you somehow still feel tired all the time, talk to your doctor. If you’re experiencing insomnia or sleep apnea, there may be medical causes and medical solutions.
You will want to eliminate physiological causes first. When you talk to your doctor, be sure to share your addiction history.
Many sleep aids are basically just benzodiazepines and you don’t want your doctor to prescribe something that will just cause you more problems.
Talk to Your Therapist
If there is no medical cause of your sleep problems, talk to your therapist about it. There are primarily two reasons for this. First, your sleep problems may be a symptom of a mental health issue that isn’t being adequately addressed.
For example, most people think of sleeping too much as a symptom of depression, which it is, but insomnia or disturbed sleep are also extremely common, especially for men with depression. Insomnia may also be a symptom of ADHD, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder.
The bottom line is that it could be an important psychological symptom and co-occurring mental health issues must be addressed for your sobriety to last.
The second reason to discuss sleep problems with your therapist is that there is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, called CBT-I, specifically tailored to deal with sleep problems. It includes some of the things mentioned here, such as sleeping on a regular schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene.
Your therapist may also help you identify and challenge unhelpful beliefs about sleep. For example, when you can’t sleep, you may think something like, “Oh no, not this again, I’m going to be exhausted all day tomorrow,” and so on.
A more helpful way to think is something like, “Hmm, can’t sleep. That’s ok, I’ll just rest. I’ll probably fall asleep before I even realize.” In other words, many of the cognitive distortions that can disturb us during the day can also disturb us when we’re trying to sleep. Your therapist can help you sort these out.
Get on a Regular Sleep Schedule
As noted above, one of the most important things is to sleep on a regular schedule, even on the weekends. Sleep is a complicated process, involving changes in neurotransmitters, hormones, and body temperature.
These are much more efficient when they happen on a regular schedule. This is why people who do shift work tend to have a lot more sleep problems.
Try to be in bed by a certain time no matter what. Block off plenty of time to sleep--most people need at least eight hours--and be sure to include a few extra minutes for the time it will take you to drift off and wake up. Then, get up at the same time every morning.
It may also help to work with your body’s natural rhythms by waking up with the sun. One study found that spending a weekend camping significantly improved participants’ circadian rhythms, helping them sleep and wake more easily.
So, if you’re having trouble getting on a regular sleep schedule, a few days of camping might be just what you need, even if you only camp in the back yard.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
In addition to keeping a regular sleep schedule, practice good sleep hygiene. This starts during the day by not taking naps--at least for a while. At some point, you can take naps again, but not after 2 p.m. and not longer than 20 minutes.
At night, have a bedtime routine to signal it’s almost time to sleep. Don’t use the bed for anything except sleep and sex. You want a strong association between getting into bed and falling asleep.
Don’t watch TV or look at your phone in bed. Try to keep your bedroom cool, between 68 and 70 degrees. Also, keep your room as dark and quiet as possible.
If that’s an issue, get a sleep mask and ear plugs. Even if light and sounds don’t wake you up at night, they can still disturb the quality of your sleep.
Cut Down on Caffeine
For most people, moderate caffeine intake is not a problem and some studies suggest coffee and tea have some mild health benefits. However, it’s important to realize that caffeine has a half-life of between four and six hours.
That means if you have a cup of coffee at noon, about a quarter of that caffeine will still be in your system at bedtime. You may feel tired but still be unable to sleep or you may sleep but not as deeply. If you’ve been having trouble with insomnia, try cutting down on caffeine.
Finally, try to get regular exercise during the day. Research shows that even moderate exercise, such as a 30-minute walk, can help you sleep better the very same night.
We don’t quite know why this works but it’s likely that exercise reduces stress and anxiety, which helps you sleep better. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Getting your heart rate up within two hours of bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep.
Getting enough quality sleep is a crucial aspect of wellness. Not only does it make you mentally sharper, improve your self-control, and reduce your risk of anxiety and depression, but it also improves your physical health, reducing your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
In short, it’s an important part of your recovery to get right.
At The Foundry, we recognize that wellness is a key component to sobriety and it is integrated into our programs at every level. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.