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Coping with Insomnia During Your Addiction Recovery


The night is the hardest time to be alive,

and 4 am knows all my secrets.”- Poppy Z. Brite, American writer

Your head hits the pillow, you slowly close your eyes, but your brain has so much zipping around in its prefrontal cortex, there’s no place in there for sleep. If your brain doesn’t start to chill out soon, there’s no chance the rest of you will chill out enough to relax, and finally (thankfully) fall asleep.

Insomnia – the curse of many an addiction recovery, especially during the early days.

If you haven’t been there yet, and encountered insomnia in all its glory – chances are, you will… at some point. Recovering drug addicts and recovering alcoholics are serious experts at inducing a good dose of seemingly incurable insomnia for themselves. You can thank all that unresolved anger, guilt, anxiety, and shame for a start because that’s where insomnia usually does start, as well as your body continuing to withdraw from the toxic substances you’ve been abusing.

I once had a psychiatrist assure me (during my addicted days) that there was nothing wrong with me – not addiction, not alcoholism, not insomnia, and certainly not plain, old madness. “A simple case of “racing thoughts” is all,” he said. I was still laughing away to myself when I opened the next bottle of whiskey to shut those same racing thoughts up.

Fortunately, I later encountered decent clinicians, specializing in addiction, who informed me that the racing thoughts were a symptom of something else, and I was able to undergo treatment in a drug rehab center in Pennsylvania for both that disorder and, of course, my chronic alcoholism. Over 6 years ago now, and I’ve been clean, sober, and healthy ever since.

I became a student of addiction, the disease, in rehab; education – learning the cold, hard facts about this disorder – was a primary tool for enabling a lasting recovery. I learned all about my insomnia and a host of other useful things too (like the art of mindfulness – but more of that later).

Here is the advice that was passed onto me about “Coping with Insomnia During Your Addiction Recovery”:

Sleep is an Absolute Necessity for the Recovering Addict

Addiction is medically described as a “chronic, relapsing brain disorder.” Like all chronic diseases, it takes time to heal and recover, and addiction is no different. It is for that very reason that sleep is an absolute necessity for those undergoing such a recovery.

When you sleep, your brain doesn’t, not really. It’s busy processing all the information it needs to help you achieve recovery, far more efficiently and effectively than when you’re awake. The brain is also responsible for regulating enzymes and hormones in the body when we sleep, which improves recovery.

Lose out on your sleep, and you will be prone to anxiety, poor control of your emotions, impulsivity, and depression. Not good, as these can result in relapse.

Insomnia: The Facts

Insomnia is a sleep disorder, resulting in:

  • Poor-quality sleep
  • Waking sporadically during the night
  • Difficulty in returning to sleep, and
  • Waking too early

There are 2 types of insomnia:

  • Acute Insomnia (or short-term insomnia): More common and milder than the chronic version of the disorder (often going away on its own), acute insomnia can simply result from:
  • Environmental factors like noise or extreme temperatures
  • Work-related anxiety or
  • Emotional stress and discomfort
  • Chronic Insomnia (or ongoing insomnia): A prolonged and lasting disorder that requires actual treatment, chronic insomnia can be caused by:
  • Certain medication
  • Mental health issues
  • Trauma
  • Alcoholic insomnia caused by consuming too much alcohol, or
  • Poor sleeping environment

Why is Insomnia Common During Addiction Recovery?

According to the Journal of Addiction Medicine, if you are in recovery from substance addiction, you are 5 times more likely to experience insomnia. Sleeping disorders are simply a longer-term withdrawal symptom for those recovering from substance abuse, such as alcohol, opioids and cannabis.

Insomnia: What Can I Do?

Insomnia caused by the long-term withdrawal from an abused substance, or substances, is a temporary issue and does not require the use of medication, eg. sleeping tablets or other meds, to be treated successfully.

Here are the best lifestyle tips to beat your temporary case of insomnia:

  • Avoid Caffeine: Caffeine, a natural stimulant, is a killer when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, so avoid it if you can. If you need a cup of coffee, no problem – just confine your caffeine intake strictly to the mornings.
  • Nutrition: Eat a healthy and nutritious diet, and avoid sugar and fats, as this promotes good sleep. You can also use a melatonin-based supplement as this can help you go to sleep faster.
  • Exercise Regularly: Somewhat obvious (because it helps to feel physically tired before sleep), try and exercise daily.
  • Relaxation: Learning activities like yoga, massage therapy, and mindfulness meditation is an excellent way of learning to relax your body and mindfully. Personally, mindfulness was a revelation to me, and I still practice it daily.
  • Good Sleeping Environment: A dark, quiet room with the right temperature.
  • Wind Down Before: Take a warm bath, practice a relaxation exercise, or reading before bed aid your sleep when you get there.

Remember, insomnia is temporary during addiction recovery. If it persists, and you feel like you have exhausted the above, speak to your family physician – do not try to self-medicate, as you could make yourself prone to relapse. Sleep well, dear reader!