Early recovery is all about getting your body and mind back to normal functioning. While the goal itself may be simple, it is easier said than done. Chronic substance abuse causes severe disruptions, both mentally and physically. When the toxic effects of substances gradually leave the system, your body will undergo tremendous changes to become healthy. Early sobriety insomnia is one of the greatest challenges you will encounter.
What is Insomnia and How It Impacts Recovery
The National Sleep Foundation defines insomnia as the following:
“Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.”
Drug and alcohol addiction damages sleep cycles. Alcohol, in particular, impacts slow wave sleep along with REM sleep. Chronic alcohol use can deplete inhibitory neurotransmitters that allow us to feel relaxed and can cause blood sugar imbalances, both of which can negatively impact deep sleep.
During the withdrawal process, the body encounters further disturbances as it attempts to repair itself. Depending on the severity of your addiction, it can take years for sleep cycles to return to normal. If early sobriety insomnia is not addressed proactively, the sluggishness, and imbalanced mood states you experience can make you more vulnerable to relapse.
7 Ways to Beat Early Sobriety Insomnia
While combating early sobriety insomnia can be difficult, the following 7 tips will increase your chances of getting the rest you need to get and feel healthy.
Tip #1: Prepare for Sleep Throughout the Day
Many people—recovering addicts included—try to prepare for sleep right before they go to bed. In our fast-paced and strenuous world, sleep is a critical aspect of our health that is often overlooked. If you are new to recovery, the first goal in conquering early sobriety insomnia is to prepare your mind and body for sleep throughout the day.
One thing you need to do to prepare for sleep in your day is to quit consuming caffeinated beverages such as coffee and soda by mid-day. If you engage in daily exercise, don’t do so in the evening before you go to bed. The body heat created by cardio has stimulant effects and can disrupt sleep. Also, avoid eating right before bed. Eating too late at night can cause blood sugar to fluctuate, which can wake you from deep sleep stages.
Tip #2: Have Set Times Where You Wake Up and Fall Asleep
To overcome early sobriety insomnia, you must have a sleep schedule in place. This sleep schedule features set times where you go to bed and wake up. A sleep schedule helps your body to develop an optimal rhythm that fits the sleep cycle you desire. This sleep schedule includes weekends.
While there are personal variations to be considered when determining an ideal sleep schedule, most people can benefit from getting to bed by 10 pm and getting 7-8 hours of sleep.
Finding your ideal sleep schedule involves some trial and error, so be patient. When you set a bedtime, if you remain awake for 20 minutes after you should be sleeping, you may need to adjust your time. Experiment and find the time that works best for you.
Tip #3: Getting Your Body Rhythm Right
Your internal clock is set by your sleep and wake cycles, what you eat, when you eat, and the light you’re exposed to during the day and at night. When all three components are adequately taken care of, your mind and body achieve optimal functioning. Chronic drug and alcohol addiction throw your body completely out of sync—as a result, you experience insomnia and other physical and psychological issues.
To conquer early recovery insomnia, it is crucial to get your body rhythms back in sync. To do so, you need to expose yourself to light sources during the daytime. As already stated, you need to avoid eating meals late in the evening before bed. When you do these things, your body will be able to produce melatonin which will help you get restful sleep.
Tip #4: Deal with Your Stress
Stress is often the most significant contributor to early recovery insomnia—and relapse. When your mind is racing with worry and anxiety, you will not get the sleep you need. When your body and mind are tired, you become more vulnerable to the stresses of everyday life, which can lead you to use substances once again.
Incorporating mindful meditation techniques into your daily routine will decrease your stress and allow you to relax. Whether it is focused on breathing exercised, simple yoga techniques, or focused muscle relaxation, these exercises will calm your mind and relax your body to the proper state when you are ready to sleep. Not only are these techniques effective, but they are also relatively easy to master and can be done for just 10-15 minutes daily.
Tip#5: Create a Sleep Routine
Another valuable tip in conquering early recovery insomnia is creating a sleep routine. Going to sleep involves more than just laying in bed and closing your eyes. There are several things you can do in the evening to calm the mind and body. As stated before, you can perform yoga or meditation. You can also relax in the bath or drink tea such as kava, lemon balm, or chamomile.
Additionally, you can read a book or magazine. Whatever you decide to incorporate into your routine, be sure you stick to it every night. By developing a consistent pattern, your body associates these activities with sleep.
Tip #6: Turn off Your Electronic Devices
Electronics such as smartphones and iPads have become ever-present in our daily lives. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 90% of Americans say they use these devices during the hour before going to sleep. While many use electronic devices to relax, they are actually having an opposite effect on your physiology.
The short-wave artificial blue light these devices use interferes with your internal clock and delays the release of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. If you need to eliminate early recovery insomnia, it is best to turn these devices off altogether an hour or two before bed. Much like establishing a regular sleep schedule, find a cut-off time in the evening where for the use of electronic devices, ideally an hour or 2 before bed.
Tip #7: Creating a Sleep Space
To get the consistent restful sleep you need each night, you must create a sleep space conducive to peace and tranquility. As stated in the previous tip, start by turning off smartphones, iPads, and other electronic devices. You also may want to change the lightbulbs in existing features to some that have a softer glow. Getting blackout curtains eliminates any incoming light and helps set the mood.
You may also want to adjust the temperature of your room. The best temperature for sleep is between 60 to 67 degrees. Sleeping with socks on or with a water bottle at your feet can help dilate blood vessels quicker—thus helping your body get to the ideal core temperature. Additionally, using a fan or white noise machine can be helpful.
These tips are a starting point to help you conquer early recovery insomnia. By no means is this an exhaustive list; find the tips, tricks, and techniques that work best for you.