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Why Sleep Problems in Early Recovery Are Normal

People who are new to recovery face many challenges: They battle cravings, low energy levels, possible depression, and a rush of new and powerful emotions. They may be grieving in a sense, and may alternately feel exhausted, restless, anxious and fearful, or sometimes all of the above at once. Newly recovering addicts also experience sleep problems in early recovery.  

This is tough because getting adequate sleep in at this stage in the process is important. Fatigue, if left unchecked, can be a trigger for relapse. People don’t make good decisions when they are tired. Coping skills are lower, and you may be more likely to act impulsively when you aren’t at your best. So, it’s super-important that you get your Z’s.

Why Are Sleep Problems in Early Recovery Common?

There are numerous reasons for this. Part of it is habit. Most people who are addicted to substances don’t exactly have the best sleep habits to begin with. Many people who become addicted to substances already have been struggling with insomnia. In fact, people who have insomnia are at a greater risk for substance abuse. Insomnia is a symptom of post-acute withdrawal disorder, which can persist for months after the person gets sober. Brain chemistry is often out of whack for up to a year after getting sober, and may contribute to the problem.

Finally, most people who are new in recovery are highly anxious, under a tremendous amount of stress and may have a lot on their minds: Family issues, financial problems, legal problems etc., etc. It’s really no wonder sleep does not come easily in early recovery. There’s just a lot going on.

Symptoms of Insomnia in Early Recovery

Insomnia is a common problem for people across all populations, but for those in addiction recovery, it is particularly troublesome. For the newly sober person, the following are typical symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Disrupted sleep, poor quality sleep
  • Racing thoughts that keep them up
  • Physical discomfort that results in poor sleep/difficulty falling asleep
  • Trouble waking up/staying awake during daytime hours
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Fogginess, difficulty concentrating during waking hours
  • Irritability
  • Sluggishness and lack of energy
  • Difficulty making decisions, making poor choices as a result of sleep deprivation

Insomnia Dangers for the Recovering Addict

Insomnia can contribute to a wide variety of problems in anyone. Irritability, depression, loss of productivity, and other issues can lower quality of life. For the person in recovery, though, insomnia can actually lead to relapse, and some speculate that it is a major contributor.

Insomnia can lead a person who is in treatment to be seen as a discipline problem, and can lead to them being kicked out of the program. Treatment tends to be a very structured environment, and the person suffering insomnia may get “write ups” for things like failing to wake up on time, falling asleep in groups, etc. This can lead to disciplinary action up to and including having to leave the program.

Being constantly tired and having low energy can be frustrating. Lack of sleep only serves to worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are two other major factors in relapse. Bottom line is that insomnia presents a barrier to successful recovery. However, treating insomnia isn’t always easy, and medications for insomnia are often habit-forming drugs which can lead to relapse. So what is the answer?

Treating Sleep Problems in Early Recovery

The first step is to acknowledge that sleep problems in early recovery affect the recovering addict. It’s important that the addict in treatment or counseling is educated and knows what types of symptoms they may experience during their early weeks and months of recovery. Insomnia is very common, and while not every recovering addict will experience it, they should be aware that it is a strong possibility, and that eventually it will pass.

Proper self-care and education around sleep hygiene can be a big help. Many people are unaware that they can take steps to improve their sleep. Here are some suggestions for doing this:

  • Try to go to bed at the same time each night.
  • If you are having difficulty sleeping, try to limit any activities and avoid stimulation. Drink something warm, take a bath, keep the lights dim, and don’t watch television.
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm
  • Cut out “screen time” for at least an hour before going to bed, preferably two. The blue screen lighting is actually stimulating and keeps your brain alert. Consider an app or software that blocks blue light.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. For instance, you may take a bath, drink some herbal tea, lower the lights, and listen to soft music. This will signal your brain that you are getting ready to sleep.
  • Try white noise such as a fan if you are a light sleeper.
  • Keep the room as dark as possible.

Finally, it’s important that people in  early recovery who suffer from insomnia or other sleep problems receive reassurance and support that the issue will pass. In the midst of it, there may feel like there is no relief in sight, but it will pass. Good diet, exercise and working an active program of recovery will help speed the process. Soon, a good night’s sleep will become the norm.

Have Questions About Addiction Recovery? Call Us

Sleep problems in early recovery is only one of many concerns people have after treatment. Call our 24-hour helpline at (855) 619-8070 and one of our agents will gladly walk you through common scenarios of life in recovery.