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Insomnia In Early Recovery From Drug Addiction

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

March 19, 2019

More than 40 million Americans suffer from some form of insomnia, and for the vast majority of those in early recovery from drug addiction, insomnia is a real and persistent issue. The good news is, that for those in recovery, insomnia may not become a chronic condition and there are positive coping strategies to help you through the period of adjustment in early recovery.

How Insomnia Effects Those In Early Recovery

Insomnia affects many in the early stages of recovery because many abused substances alter brain chemistry and have a direct impact on the central nervous system. These changes can reduce the relay or reception of the body’s natural sleep regulating neurotransmitters including dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and glutamate. Additionally, most drugs including alcohol, opioids, and barbiturates so far depress the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the body’s natural nerve signal inhibitor, that once drug use is ceased, the body can no longer regulate nerve excitability, leading to insomnia, panic and mood disorders including anxiety and depression.

These changes, while uncomfortable, are not permanent. For someone in the early stages of recovery, insomnia may last anywhere from a matter of days to months and up to a year. Studies on the impact of insomnia on those in recovery reveal a sleep disorder is a significant instigator for relapse, as it can lead to a number of adverse health effects including anxiety, stress, paranoia, and poor concentration. Though your focus is on your recovery, knowing how to cope with the challenges that arise from insomnia is one way to improve your long-term recovery success.

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Natural Ways To Cope With Insomnia During Drug Rehab

There are a few ways to cope with insomnia during drug rehab that do not involve taking prescribed sleep aids. The first and most recommended method used to combat drug-withdrawal induced insomnia is exercise. Exercise including walks, bicycling, swimming, etc. lasting for 45 minutes or more is a great way to not only restore your natural sleep cycles, but also reduce stress (another cause of insomnia), and improve your health and well-being. It is also recommended that you exercise in the earlier part of the day, rather than in the later afternoon as adrenaline generated during physical activity can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

People going through withdrawals and those in the earlier stages of recovery often suffer from higher rates of anxiety brought on by the period of adjustment their bodies must make post drug dependency. When someone is coping with anxiety, they are more alert to sudden changes in noise or activity around them, even while sleeping. White noise generated by a fan or other machine can provide a consistent sound, thereby masking any changes in noise around the sleeping person.

Stress and anxiety are huge instigators when it comes to insomnia during recovery. Reducing your exposure to stressful events, people, and even social media or the news media, especially before bed is one way to reduce the interference these co-occurring factors have on your ability to fall asleep.

Avoid stimulants later in the day. If you drink a caffeinated beverage like coffee or colas later in the day (especially during afternoon meetings), this can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Caffeine can also alter your natural sleep schedule. If you’re in rehab and find yourself drinking more than a few cups of coffee each day, try reducing the number of cups gradually. This should improve your ability to fall asleep. You can also try substituting one cup of coffee with one cup of tea. Nicotine is another stimulant that can make it more difficult to fall asleep. When possible, avoid smoking right before bed.

Routine can also be helpful in re-establishing natural sleep cycles. Make sure the room you are sleeping in is dark and that there are no distractions. For some, creating a before bed ritual that includes prayer, repetition of a positive mantra, enjoying a non-caffeinated tea, reading, or enjoying a warm bath or shower can help transition into a state of relaxation better suited for sleep.

Acupuncture and yoga or another form of meditation have also been shown to be effective in the treatment of insomnia. Even if you do not have access to a yoga class, you can practice mindful breathing before bed, slowing your breath rate and helping your body relax as part of your bedtime ritual.

Ways To Cope With And Treat Insomnia

  • Exercise for 45 minutes daily
  • Use of white noise
  • Reduce exposure to stress and anxiety
  • Avoid stimulants
  • Bedtime routine
  • Speak with your counselor
  • Acupuncture, yoga, meditation

Coping with insomnia can be challenging. If the problem persists or is causing difficulties focusing on your recovery, speak with your counselor about it. Sometimes we can become so preoccupied with sleep, it can reinforce our inability to fall asleep. Talking about the issue can take away some of the power it holds over you.

Use Of Sleep Aids During Drug Rehab

Though use of sleep aids is available to people in drug rehab, many doctors resist prescribing them for fear of a co-occurring addiction. Sleep aids that may be utilized during the withdrawal period and in subsequent recovery include trazodone, a hypnotic antidepressant drug along with other antidepressant medications, antihistamine drugs, and benzodiazepines for non-alcohol related recovery. Other non-pharmaceutical treatments include applied cognitive-behavioral treatments.

Getting Help With Drug And Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, help is available starting now. can connect you with the online resources, professional support, and comprehensive treatment options available to meet your individual needs. Recovery is possible with help from evidence-based treatment facilities. Contact us today about how you can turn your life around and discover a better life in recovery.

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