Recovering from addiction isn’t just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s about creating a healthier life that make drugs and alcohol feel unnecessary. To that end, it often helps to make some healthy lifestyle changes. Chief among these are eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, and getting plenty of sleep. Your mind and body don’t just shut down during sleep. They’re doing a lot of important things they can’t do while you’re awake. Getting plenty of sleep every night–at least seven hours and preferably more–strengthens your recovery from addiction in the following ways.
Sleep bolsters your mental health
Mental health is a serious concern for anyone recovering from addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of adults and 60 percent of adolescents seeking help for a substance use issue also have a co-occurring mental health issue. Common co-occurring issues are major depression, various anxiety disorders, personality disorders, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders. Anxiety disorders and depression are by far the most common and they have both been linked to inadequate sleep.
One study followed more than 1000 adults between the ages of 21 and 30 for three years. Participants who reported insomnia during their initial interview were four times more likely to have developed major depression three years later. Another study involving more than 1000 teens found that sleep problems preceded anxiety disorders in 27 percent of cases and preceded major depression in 69 percent of cases.
Unfortunately, insomnia is often a symptom of depression and anxiety as well so sleeping more and sleeping better may depend to some extent on getting effective treatment for those conditions.
Sleep improves mental performance
Although inadequate sleep is associated with anxiety and depression in the long term, sleep deprivation can affect your behavior and mood after just one night. Studies have found that sleep deprivation has negative effects on attention and working memory, which is a measure of how many items you can think about at once. A review of research on sleep and emotions found that even one night of sleep deprivation can worsen pre-existing mental health issues as well as causing fatigue and confusion. There was a particularly strong connection between sleep deprivation and anger and impulsiveness. One study included in the review found these correlated with more drinking and smoking among Japanese teens.
A study from UC Berkeley found that sleep-deprived participants felt about a 30 percent increase in anxiety when watching anxiety-inducing video clips compared to when they got adequate sleep. The reason appears to be that sleep deprivation leads to excess activity in the amygdala–an area of the brain involved in identifying threats–and a decrease of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in emotional regulation. In other words, your sleep-deprived brain is more likely to interpret something as threatening and less able to realize it was a false alarm.
The good news is that your anxiety levels fall back to normal pretty quickly once you start getting enough sleep. You also get the benefits of more concentration, better working memory, and motivation.
Sleep improves your physical health
Chronic substance use can damage your health in a number of ways. Exactly how depends on what substances you use most, how long you’ve used them, age, and other factors. Common health risks from substance use include cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease, accidents, diabetes, respiratory infections, more frequent illnesses, and cancers. As it happens, the list of problems caused by sleep deprivation looks very similar and includes high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. If you are recovering from addiction, which already has health risks, you don’t want to compound those risks by getting too little sleep.
Sleep is when your body heals from illness and injury. Pretty much every tissue and system in your body is repaired during sleep. Studies have even shown that sleep improves the effectiveness of vaccines, likely due to the increased activity of the immune system during sleep, which also helps you get sick less in general.
Sleep helps you learn
People often don’t think of addiction recovery as a process of learning but in a way, addiction recovery is primarily a process of learning–learning positive coping mechanisms, learning effective communication strategies, and learning different ways to think about drugs and alcohol. And almost all learning really takes place while you sleep. You are exposed to the information during the day and you practice during the day, but sleep is when new information goes from short-term to long-term memory. The more you sleep during this process, the faster you learn.
What if you can’t sleep?
Unfortunately, insomnia is common early in recovery. It’s a common withdrawal symptom and it’s also a common symptom of depression and anxiety. Your sleep should gradually improve, especially as you get treatment for any co-occurring disorders, but if it doesn’t, talk to your therapist about it. Also, be sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, such as not looking at your phone right before bed, sleeping in a dark, quiet, cool room, sleeping regular hours, and only using your bed for sleeping, not watching TV or doing other things.
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: 800.910.9299.