Just as our bodies need food and water for daily survival, they also require adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep is even more important for individuals going through drug or alcohol withdrawal and entering the early stages of recovery. While we are sleeping, our bodies perform tremendous tasks vital for the recovery process.
How Sleep Contributes to a Healthy Recovery from Substance Abuse
Throughout the day our brains are filled with data. The brain can take in copious amounts of information, but ultimately it needs to be sorted. While we are asleep, the brain is able to sort and file this information so we can process each day’s data effectively. Aside from this crucial task, the brain also regulates hormones and enzymes throughout the body while we sleep.
Essentially, getting adequate sleep enables your brain to work for you, not against you. And you need your brain to work for you when you become stressed, are faced with a major decision, or are working through the past issues that led you to drugs in the first place.
Sleep Deprivation and Relapse
When individuals are sleep deprived, they subject themselves to conditions such as depression, obesity, and suicidal ideations/ attempts. There is also an inability to focus and retain information, and an inability to make decisions or problem solve when the brain is deprived of restorative sleep. With a lack of sleep, people are more likely to engage in risky behavior and are unable to control their moods. These symptoms can put recovering addicts on the path to relapse.
Understanding the Sleep Cycle
In order for the body to heal, it’s important to obtain the recommended hours of sleep each night. Adults in addiction recovery should be getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night, this allows the body to move through its sleep cycle approximately 5-6 times.
Each stage of the sleep cycle provides specific benefits for your body and brain function:
- Stage One: This stage lasts several minutes during which you change from wakefulness to sleep. Brainwaves begin to slow, along with heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements.
- Stage Two: The second stage is still a light sleep, but transitions into a deeper sleep. Muscles begin to relax, body temperature drops, and eye movement stops. More time is spent in stage two than any other stage.
- Stage Three & Four: This is the part of sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. Heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during this stage. Muscles are relaxed, and it is difficult to awaken during this stage. Brain waves become even slower.
- REM Sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep happens approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. Eyes move rapidly behind eyelids, breathing is faster, and muscles become temporarily paralyzed. This is what prevents us from acting out dreams.
Why It’s Hard to Sleep During Withdrawal
Individuals in withdrawal and early recovery often experience periods of insomnia. This can be problematic since sleep is pertinent for the body to repair itself from the wear and tear of substance abuse. One of the reasons why people in early recovery have trouble sleeping is because of nutrient deficiencies that develop during active addiction.
Active addiction and good nutrition rarely go together. Most people in active addiction are eating processed, and chemical filled foods, and are not getting enough stage three sleep. Their bodies use all reserved resources to maintain the functioning of vital organs. Since all resources are being used, the brain is depleted of vital nutrients needed to function properly, which means that on top of all the other health issues caused by drugs and alcohol, the brain isn’t signaling for the proper release of melatonin—a hormone that tells the body it is time to sleep.
Another reason why those in withdrawal have trouble sleeping is because of the addictive substances themselves. For a person seeking treatment for an addiction to stimulant drugs (such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy), sleep will be affected until the drugs are no longer in the body.
Dealing with Withdrawal Insomnia
There are a few ways to address sleep issues during addiction recovery. A top priority for those in withdrawal should be improving their body’s nutritional state.
A person recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction should be eating a protein rich, whole foods diet to take in the most vitamins and minerals possible. In some cases, the individual may benefit from amino acid therapy (also called neurotransmitter restoration therapy), a treatment that incorporates a daily blend of specific amino acid combinations tailored for the person’s needs.
Practicing good sleep hygiene is another vital component for dealing with the insomnia that often accompanies addiction withdrawal. Sleep hygiene refers to the routine in which you get ready for bed. Proper sleep hygiene includes things like limiting daytime naps, avoiding caffeine and nicotine before bed, exercising regularly, and getting adequate exposure to natural light.
Two of the most important rules to follow for sleep hygiene are establishing a regular bedtime routine, and making sure your sleep environment is pleasant. Nightly routines help the body recognize that it’s time to sleep. Your nightly routine could include bathing, reading a book, or performing light stretches.
Your sleep environment is equally important. Mattresses and pillows should be comfortable, and the bedroom should be between 60-67 degrees. Bright lights from phones, alarm clocks, or TV screens can make it difficult to sleep and should be removed from your sleep environment. If needed, consider an eye mask or white noise machine to block light or excessive street noise.
For clients in early recovery at The Shores, we focus on stabilization and cleansing the body through detox (if needed) or other comfort measures if detox isn’t needed to help a person sleep. We also provide nutritional and physical wellness services to restore any nutrients that were depleted while the client was using drugs or alcohol. Amino acid therapy is available as well, which helps restore a client’s hormones to normal levels.
If you would like to know more about how the experienced team at The Shores Treatment and Recovery can help you or a loved one live a healthy life and experience long-term sobriety, please call us today.
Patti Allen-Comfort, RN is a Certified Addiction Recovery and Mental Health Nutrition Coach at The Shores Treatment and Recovery. She has provided quality patient care for 23 years, helping others through nursing care, compassion, and education.