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No Sleeping Through Recovery!

The above title means precisely what it says. You may think it means that you can’t sleep through your recovery because you’ve got to be motivated and vigilant about working it. We actually mean that many people experience very poor sleep quality during recovery.

Why is that? You would think that finally facing your demons and taking the steps you need to get some help would bring relief from all the stress in your life. Sleep disturbances, however, remain a very common part of early recovery.

  • Do you have difficulty getting to sleep?
  • Do you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself unable to return to sleep?
  • Do you experience racing thoughts that keep you from sleeping?
  • Do you feel drowsy and exhausted during the day?
  • Do you actually fall asleep during the day?
  • Are your dreams disturbing?
  • Do you find that, all counted up, you spend too many hours in sleep mode?
  • Do you awaken feeling unrefreshed?

When you begin the recovery process, whether you’re in outpatient therapy or at a center for substance abuse treatment, sleeplessness ranks high among the post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Your whole body misses the effects of the drugs or alcohol you were using, and it takes a while to establish a sleep cycle without them.

Intense Dreams

In another article on these pages, you may have read about way that dreams intensify when someone stops using marijuana. That’s because the active component in marijuana (THC) interrupts the rapid-eye-movement (REM) cycle of sleep, which is when you dream. If you’ve stopped using marijuana, you experience a rebound effect that results in increased amounts of dreaming. For alcoholics, the biochemistry is a little different because alcohol suppresses dreams, but the end result is the same.

Both types of dreamers can expect dreams to seem intense and even colorful. You may dream of using again, with the plethora of emotions that may come with that.

Re-Learning Natural Sleep

Give your body time to learn how to sleep naturally once again. It can take many weeks or even months, and your actual sleep requirements may revise themselves. Do not make the mistake of taking an over-the-counter or a prescribed sleeping aid. Give Nature a chance. You can assure yourself that your sleep problems during this time of early recovery are very likely to resolve themselves without any kind of medical intervention.  While you wait for your body to adjust, follow these guidelines:

  • Be certain your sleeping area is quiet and comfortable. You may even want to pamper yourself by redesigning your bedroom or at least buying some new sheet sets. Keep the temperature and air circulation at comfortable levels.
  • Get into your bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends.
  • No fair taking naps during the day.
  • Avoid or reduce the amount of caffeine you take in. If you really like coffee but hate decaf, try mixing both leaded and unleaded versions of your favorite brand. That way you’re at least getting less caffeine.
  • While exercise is good for you, avoid exercising in the hours before your bedtime.
  • Invest in a good on guided imagery so that you can learn some relaxation techniques.
  • Begin a night-time custom of saying prayers, meditation, or reading from a self-help book.
  • Avoid a huge meal close to bedtime. Small snacks only should be heavy on carbs, such as a bowl of cereal and milk, a muffin, or some cookies. Protein is not recommended for this unless you put a small amount of peanut butter or cheese on some crackers.
  • Bed is for sleeping, not tossing, not working, and not doing other activities (no, we’re not talking about that). If you haven’t fallen asleep after a half hour, get up and read a little or listen to music and then return to bed. Avoid using your handheld devices because the light from computer screens is believed to interrupt the generation of melatonin, which is the body’s natural sleep chemical.

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