Getting plenty of quality sleep is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make when recovering from addiction. Getting enough sleep reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, it improves your concentration, memory, and emotional regulation, it helps you learn new recovery skills faster, and it reduces your risk of many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three Americans don’t get enough sleep, which it defines as at least seven hours a night. Getting enough sleep may be especially challenging for people recovering from substance use disorders. Insomnia is a common symptom of withdrawal from many substances and it may linger after the period of acute withdrawal. Also, many people with substance use issues also have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, or ADHD, all of which may make it harder to sleep. How, then, can someone recovering from a substance use disorder or mental health issues get the sleep they need?
If you already have a regular therapist, it’s a good idea to tell her about your sleep troubles. She is likely already aware of them, since insomnia may be a symptom of your primary mental health concern. Your sleep should improve as your mental health improves. If you still have trouble sleeping, be sure to bring it up with your therapist. There’s a special form of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia called CBT-I. Instead of using drugs to help you sleep better, it addresses your thinking and habits around sleep. If you talk to your doctor about your sleep issues, be sure she knows about your addiction history. Many sleep medications are habit forming and some are basically just benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive. It’s much better to try to improve your sleep without medication if possible.
One of the most effective ways to sleep better is to go to bed and get up at regular times. Sleep is actually a complex process that requires the timed release of various hormones and neurotransmitters. A sleep cycle, which comprises stages of “quiet” sleep and REM sleep, lasts about 90 minutes and most of us need at least five full cycles–or about seven and a half hours–of sleep each night to feel rested and avoid cognitive deficits. You may know the feeling of waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle; although you may have slept long enough, you still feel groggy and disoriented because you interrupted a sleep cycle. By keeping a regular schedule, you get used to sleeping in a way that conforms to your natural sleep cycles and your sleep cycles can also adjust to your regular sleep schedule. What’s more, when your body knows to expect that you will be sleeping soon, it can start getting ready, so that by the time you lie down in bed, you’re ready to sleep.
Sleep hygiene means creating conditions that are conducive to good sleep. Ideally, that means sleeping in a dark, quiet room that is kept just below 70 degrees fahrenheit. If keeping your room dark and quiet is hard, consider investing in earplugs and an eye mask. Sleep conditions can have a significant effect on mental health. One study found that mice that lived under lights for 24 hours a day showed more depressive symptoms than mice that could escape into a dark tube to sleep. And other study found that older people were more prone to depression if they had even low-level exposure to light while they slept. Good sleep hygiene also means limiting your exposure to bright lights near bedtime. Computer, phone, tablet, and TV screens all have a lot of blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and makes it harder to sleep. Finally, only use your bed for sleeping or sex. You want a strong association between your bed and sleep so that lying down becomes a sort of trigger for falling asleep.
There are plenty of great reasons to exercise and one is that it helps you sleep better. Studies show that exercise both helps you fall asleep more quickly and enjoy better quality sleep. We don’t really know why exercise helps you sleep better but part of the answer may be that it reduces anxiety, which can interfere with sleep. We do know that moderate aerobic exercise during the day can improve your sleep the same night. However, it’s important to exercise at the right time. Exercising too late in the evening can actually make it harder to sleep by raising your core body temperature and temporarily increasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Make sure you’re finished exercising at least two hours before you plan to go to bed.
Few of us take the time to properly relax. We may imagine we’re relaxing while we sit on the couch watching TV but that’s actually not as relaxing as you might think. Taking time to relax and unwind every night before bed can improve your sleep. That might mean taking a warm bath or shower, sitting down and listening to calm music, meditating, or practicing progressive relaxation exercises. Those are when you focus on each part of your body, perhaps starting at your head or your feet, and deliberately relax that area as much as possible. This is an especially good exercise for when you lie down in bed. After a few nights, you might find you fall asleep before you finish the whole process.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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