Insomnia and Addiction

Insomnia is a prevalent and debilitating condition that impacts an estimated one in three people in the UK at some point in their lives. It can profoundly affect sufferers’ physical and mental health and make everyday life a constant struggle. The repercussions of chronic insomnia extend beyond mere sleeplessness; it can exacerbate or contribute to a host of other issues, making its management a critical component of overall health and well-being. In the UK, various insomnia treatments can help sufferers find immediate relief and improve their sleep long-term.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder which can make it difficult to fall asleep (onset insomnia), stay asleep or get enough restorative sleep (both categorised as maintenance insomnia).

The condition can be classified into two main types:

1. Acute insomnia

Acute insomnia occurs when a person experiences short-term sleep issues, which are often triggered by life events such as stress, emotional upheavals, or changes in the sleep environment.

2. Chronic insomnia

Chronic insomnia is when a person has trouble sleeping at least three nights a week for three months or more and may stem from deeper medical, psychological or lifestyle issues.

Specific night-time insomnia symptoms can vary from person to person depending on the type of insomnia that is affecting them, but all can lead to daytime fatigue, mood disturbances, decreased productivity and impaired functioning.

More serious insomnia symptoms and complications include:

  • An increased risk of developing mental health disorders
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Impaired immune function
  • Cognitive, memory and learning issues

What causes insomnia?

The causes of insomnia are varied and often interlinked, forming a complex web of potential triggers and underlying conditions that can disrupt normal sleep patterns. Understanding individual causes is a fundamental step toward addressing insomnia as it enables both sufferers and healthcare professionals to tailor treatment approaches that tackle the roots of sleep disturbances.

Common causes of insomnia include:

Psychological factors

Psychological factors are among the most common causes of insomnia, with stress, anxiety and depression often playing a role. The racing thoughts and constant worry that accompany these mental health challenges can make it difficult for individuals to relax enough to fall asleep or stay asleep. Traumatic experiences and ongoing emotional distress can also contribute to the development of insomnia, with individuals unable to escape thoughts and feelings that keep them awake.

Physical factors

Physical conditions also play a significant role in disrupting sleep. Chronic pain, asthma, arthritis, neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and hormonal imbalances such as those experienced during menopause can all lead to insomnia. Substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and certain medications can also greatly interfere with sleep cycles in some people.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors include noise, light, temperature extremes and uncomfortable sleeping conditions, which can all prevent or disturb sleep. Technological distractions, such as the use of smartphones and laptops before bedtime, can also contribute to sleeplessness by interfering with the body’s natural circadian rhythms.

It is important to understand that it is often a combination of these causes which trigger or exacerbate insomnia. For instance, physical health issues can lead to psychological distress, which in turn can fuel sleep problems, creating a cycle that can be difficult to break.

Insomnia and co-occurring conditions

Insomnia rarely occurs in isolation, often coexisting with other conditions, complicating its treatment and management. Common co-occurring conditions which are often seen alongside insomnia include:

Insomnia and addiction

Substance use disorders, including alcohol and drug addiction, have a profound impact on sleep architecture and quality. For instance, while substances like alcohol may initially induce sleepiness, they significantly disrupt sleep continuity and the proportion of restorative sleep stages, leading to poor sleep quality. Similarly, stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamines and ecstasy can cause prolonged wakefulness and decrease overall sleep duration.

The mental and physical health effects of addiction can also contribute to insomnia, with some people then using more drugs or alcohol to try and sleep, creating a vicious cycle.

Insomnia and mental health disorders

Psychiatric conditions are also commonly associated with insomnia and depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and PTSD are all frequently seen alongside sleep disturbances. Insomnia can exacerbate the symptoms of these mental health issues, and conversely, the stress and emotional distress caused by these conditions can lead to or worsen insomnia.

Insomnia and chronic health conditions

Chronic medical conditions such as chronic pain syndromes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease often have insomnia as a comorbidity. The discomfort, pain and stress of managing these conditions can significantly impair an individual’s ability to fall asleep or maintain sleep.

Understanding the intricate relationships between insomnia and co-occurring conditions is crucial for effective treatment. Addressing these co-occurring conditions is often a critical step in the successful management of insomnia, emphasising the need for an integrated treatment approach that encompasses the full spectrum of an individual’s health.

How is insomnia treated?

Treating insomnia involves a multi-faceted approach tailored to the individual’s specific needs, underlying causes and co-occurring conditions. Treatment can range from lifestyle modifications and behavioural therapies to pharmacological interventions, depending on the severity and duration of the insomnia and the presence of any co-occurring conditions. Possible insomnia treatments include:

Lifestyle modifications and sleep hygiene

Improving sleep hygiene is often the first line of treatment for insomnia. This includes:


  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule
  • Creating a comfortable and conducive sleep environment 
  • Limiting exposure to screens before bedtime
  • Avoiding caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Engaging in regular physical activity


While these adjustments may seem simple, they can profoundly impact sleep quality and duration.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is considered one of the most effective treatments for chronic insomnia. This therapy addresses the thoughts and behaviours that contribute to insomnia, teaching techniques to break the cycle of anxiety and sleeplessness. Components of CBT-I include: 


  • Sleep restriction therapy
  • Stimulus control instructions
  • Sleep hygiene education
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Relaxation techniques
Pharmacological treatments

Medications may be used as a short-term solution or when insomnia significantly impacts daily functioning. However, they are generally not recommended for long-term use due to potential side effects and the risk of dependency. Commonly prescribed medications for insomnia include benzodiazepine receptor agonists, antidepressants and melatonin receptor agonists. The choice of medication depends on the individual’s symptoms and co-occurring conditions.

Addiction rehab treatment

In cases of insomnia linked to substance abuse, addressing the addiction is a pivotal aspect of the treatment plan. Addiction rehab treatment offers a holistic approach, encompassing detoxification, therapy and education on the interplay between substance use and sleep health. As explained above, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) plays a crucial role alongside medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for managing substance withdrawal symptoms, which often include insomnia. 

Alternative therapies

Some individuals may find relief through alternative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and the use of supplements like melatonin or valerian root. While evidence supporting the effectiveness of these treatments varies, they may be beneficial when used in conjunction with more conventional therapies.

How to access insomnia treatment in the UK

In the UK, individuals who have insomnia have several avenues to access treatment, depending on the severity of their condition, the underlying causes and any co-occurring conditions.

GPs can assess symptoms, provide initial advice and refer patients to sleep specialists or psychologists if necessary. For those with more complex or chronic cases of insomnia, referral to a specialist sleep clinic may be recommended for more targeted interventions.

Private healthcare and rehab centres also offer services for co-occurring insomnia and addiction, with access to a broad range of therapies. These often include the latest treatments and alternative approaches that are not always available on the NHS.

With various options available, it is essential for individuals to consult with healthcare professionals to make informed decisions about their care. Whether through the NHS or private care, the goal is to provide comprehensive, tailored treatment strategies that can improve sleep, address the root causes of insomnia and enhance overall well-being.

Get help for insomnia today

If you are struggling with insomnia, early intervention and treatment can greatly increase the chances of recovery. Contact your GP or reach out to a private mental health or rehab centre to discuss your insomnia symptoms and explore treatment options. Don’t let another sleepless night pass by – get the support you need today.

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Is insomnia treatable?

Yes, insomnia is treatable with a variety of effective methods tailored to individual needs. Treatments range from lifestyle modifications and cognitive-behavioural therapy to medication for more severe cases. Identifying and addressing any underlying causes or co-occurring conditions is crucial to developing a successful treatment plan. With the right approach, many individuals see significant improvements in their sleep quality and overall well-being.


How can I treat insomnia while in recovery?

Treating insomnia during recovery from substance abuse involves a holistic approach that addresses both addiction and sleep disturbance. Incorporating sleep hygiene practices, engaging in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and possibly utilising medication-assisted treatment (MAT) under close medical supervision can all be effective strategies.