How to Ease Withdrawal Insomnia During Recovery

Improving Your Sleep Is Important in Overcoming Addiction

Woman in bed under white blanket
Withdrawal Insomnia Tips. Vladimir Godnik / Getty Images

Trouble sleeping is a common withdrawal symptom for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. This can be troubling and lead to increased anxiety. While withdrawal insomnia is common, there are ways that you can deal with it and try to get a better night's sleep.

How Addiction and Recovery Affects Sleep

Sleep problems can occur with any type of addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that insomnia is most common for those recovering from heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine, and alcohol abuse.

"Trouble sleeping" is a withdrawal symptom for marijuana, prescription stimulants, and nicotine. 

Because every person and every addiction are different, the degree that you may have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep will vary.

People recovering from addictions may not return to normal sleep patterns for six months or longer. However, the initial few days of withdrawal can be particularly troubling. Also, sleep deprivation only makes the experience more uncomfortable.

This is because your body is out of its normal rhythm. The time you spent using drugs or drinking excessively has changed the way your body works and sleeping patterns are commonly affected. During recovery, your body is changing once again and trying to get used to being free of the substance. It is only natural that your sleep patterns will be disrupted again.

Ways to Ease Withdrawal Insomnia

The good news is that for most people, withdrawal insomnia is only temporary.

It is one of the side effects of cleaning out your body and returning to a "normal" life. 

The more disciplined you are in following guidelines for good sleep hygiene, the quicker your withdrawal insomnia will disappear. Over time, your sleep patterns will return to normal and, quite often, the simplest things you can do are the best.

  • Establish sleep rituals. Much of recovery is about replacing bad habits with healthy ones. When it comes to sleep, you can try to go to bed and wake up at the same times or wind down with quiet activities like reading before bed. Anything that will calm and relax you before trying to sleep will help.
  • Re-establish your circadian rhythms. Addiction can be difficult on your natural sleep cycle and your body may have become accustomed to staying up most of the night. One way to counteract that is to expose your eyes — without sunglasses — to the outdoor daylight early in the day. Do not look directly at the sun. 
  • Try the natural approach first. Drink a warm cup of soothing, caffeine-free tea before bed, try meditation, and stay active during the day. These are just a few natural approaches you can take to improving your sleep.

As someone with an addiction, it's advised to try these strategies first. Stick with it and combine methods if needed. It's likely you'll find better sleep soon.

The Precautions of Sleep Medications

Addictions can lead to other addictive behavior. It is most important that you try and avoid things that have the potential to become a substitute for your drug of choice.

This is particularly true in the early stages when you're going through withdrawal and you're most tempted to find fast relief.

Try to avoid self-medicating with other drugs while you are going through withdrawal. This includes over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids, marijuana, and alcohol.

Talk to your physician about whether short-term use of prescribed medications may help you sleep for the first few days. Some medications are also helpful in easing other withdrawal symptoms. These are very specific to the drug you are withdrawing from as well as the drug you are prescribed.

Follow your physician's instructions to the letter.

Under no circumstances should you take more than prescribed, or for longer than prescribed. You may become ill or simply develop a substitute addiction.

Why Good Sleep Is Key to Recovery

Establishing good sleep habits — as difficult as that may be — early in your recovery can increase your chances of avoiding a relapse. You will hear this advice from former addicts, recovering alcoholics, and, most likely, your doctors and counselors as well.

A study of cocaine-addicted rats showed that sleep abnormalities increased the chances of relapse. Those animals that were able to have fewer​ interruptions and sleep longer were less likely to exhibit cravings for cocaine. The researchers speculate that the same association, even long after the withdrawal period, supports sleep-based therapies for people with cocaine addiction.

This is a very reasonable hypothesis because sleep is one of the keys to a healthy body. That is, after all, one of the goals for overcoming addiction. While it may seem impossible at the moment, whatever you can do to get a decent amount of sleep can help in your long-term recovery.

Source: 

Chen B, Wang Y, Liu X, Liu Z, Dong Y, Huang YH. Sleep Regulates Incubation of Cocaine Craving. Journal of Neuroscience. 2015 Sep 30;35(39):13300-10. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1065-15.2015.

DuPont RL. "Should Patients With Substance Use Disorders Be Prescribed Benzodiazepines?" No. Journal of Addiction Medicine. 2017 Mar/Apr;11(2):84-86. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000291.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Commonly Abused Drugs Charts. 2016.

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