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Sleep Deprivation And Addiction

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

Sleep deprivation is a common side effect of addiction, and can negatively affect drug or alcohol addiction treatment. When a drug or alcohol addiction is mixed with a lack of sleep, they combine to create a negative cycle that can be difficult to break without proper treatment.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has labeled lack of sleep an epidemic in the U.S., as one-third of adults report that they typically get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. Roughly 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, according to The National Center of Biotechnology Information.

The Link Between Sleep Deprivation And Addiction

Sleep deprivation acts similarly to drug addiction in the brain. The combination of sleep deprivation and addiction can be toxic. Sleep deprivation can trigger the emotional swings that lead to drug or alcohol addiction, and abusing substances can cause disruptions in sleep.

Using brain imaging, researchers found that sleep deprivation increases activity in the reward center of the brain. This increase in activity affects the emotional responses people have in their day-to-day lives. This change in emotional response can increase the risk of substance use, abuse, and addiction.

Drug or alcohol substance use disorders (SUD) impact the body in a major way. It is common for people suffering from lack of sleep to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol and find themselves in a never-ending loop of sleep deprivation and substance abuse.

Many people use alcohol as a way to relax, but it actually prevents your brain from falling into deep sleep and increases the number of times you wake up during the night. Those who struggle with drug addiction are also at a higher risk of developing sleep problems.

Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines can make it very difficult to fall asleep, and lead to sleep problems like insomnia. Individuals withdrawing from drugs also reported trouble sleeping and symptoms of insomnia.

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Many Different Types Of Sleep Deprivation

There are roughly 90 different sleep disorders. Most are diagnosed by one of the following symptoms:

  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • trouble falling and staying asleep
  • sleep apnea
  • disturbances in sleep cycles

How Sleep Deprivation Threatens Successful Recovery

Sleeping deprivation can happen while abusing and withdrawing from different substances.

Most people going through the recovery process will experience issues sleeping during the first few weeks. This is a common occurrence and, if not addressed, can lead to relapse.

The recovery process can seem endless to someone who continues to not get adequate rest. People who are sleep deprived have impaired judgment, and this may cause them to be unable to say ‘no’ during high-risk situations for relapse.

Current research indicates a higher risk of relapse in people suffering from alcohol addiction. However, because lack of sleep is commonly reported as a side effect of many types of addiction, it can increase the risk of relapse for all types of addiction as well.

How Substances Can Affect Your Sleep

Understanding how different substances affect your sleep and ability to rest is important. Whether you are using everyday or going through the recovery process, addiction could have more to do with your inability to sleep than you realize.

In addition to alcohol and illicit drugs, prescription drugs can also impact your quality of sleep. Certain medications for things like ADHD, respiratory issues, high blood pressure, and depression can cause loss of sleep, even when used properly. Check with your doctor if you are following your prescription details and still missing out on adequate rest.

Teens Lacking Sleep Have An Increased Risk Of Substance Abuse

Teenagers require more sleep than adults, but according to a 2015 survey only a quarter of high school students got the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. Research has discovered many negative side effects in teens lacking sleep including poor school performance, obesity, and behavioral problems– including substance abuse.

Students who reported getting six or fewer hours of sleep a night were three times as likely to start using drugs than those who reported getting eight to nine hours. It has been noted that lack of sleep disrupts the way hormones are released and absorbed by the body. These hormone fluctuations cause changes in behavior and can lead to drugs or alcohol use.

Further research is needed to better understand the link between sleep and substance abuse. There are also many factors that can affect an adolescents sleep like early school start times, and late-night computer and cell phone use. Much of the time, teens run the risk of becoming ‘night owls’. This is called circadian rhythm sleep disorder, where the teens internal clock is no longer in sync with their environment.

In an effort to offset daytime sleepiness, teens are more likely to misuse caffeine and other stimulants. Energy drink consumption has increased among young adults and may have dangerous side effects.

The number of emergency room visits involving energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011. And, in college students, energy drink consumption also increased use, misuse, and abuse of marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs.

There are many other negative health effects from not getting enough sleep. Recognizing the link between quality sleep and risk behaviors is a big part of preventing substance abuse.

Additional Health Risks Of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation not only increases the risk of substance abuse and addiction but also causes numerous other negative effects to someone’s overall health. Over the past ten years, science moved away from thinking that getting less than seven hours of sleep has no negative side effects.

Research has provided evidence that sleep deprivation can affect the heart, immune system, and nervous system. Some health risks of sleep deprivation include:

  • obesity in adults and children
  • diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance
  • cardiovascular disease and hypertension
  • increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • decreased ability to heal
  • anxiety problems
  • depressed mood

Typically, the greater the sleep deprivation the great the negative side effects it causes. Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to think clearly and remember things. It can also impair your ability to drive a car safely. The CDC reports that one in 25 drivers report having fallen asleep while driving in the last 30 days.

Treating Sleep Deprivation And Addiction

Effective treatment for sleep deprivation begins with an accurate diagnosis. When someone is dealing with both substance addiction and sleep deprivation, it is rare for medication to be the first line of treatment.

There are many holistic ways to fight insomnia including making changes to your sleeping environment and daily habits. Most treatment facilities will start with a form of talk therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT helps individuals figure out why they aren’t sleeping well and what measures they can take to address the problem.

Other factors that may be influencing sleeping patterns like bedtime routine, caffeine consumption, and high levels of anxiety throughout the day can also impact treatment. CBT is a useful tool in helping individuals change their attitudes toward these factors and assist them in getting some rest.

Sleep deprivation can seriously hinder someone’s quality of life and is even more troublesome when paired with addiction. Although lack of sleep is common during the recovery process, it can be managed with proper treatment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with sleep deprivation and/or addiction contact us at for more information on how to best handle these disorders.

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem

CDC - Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance

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