Lack of sleep can suck all the joy out of life. It can mean lacking in energy and being unable to concentrate. There is also a strong link between insomnia and depression. Those breaking away from addiction find it common to suffer from lack of sleep. However, if the insomnia is serious enough, it could lead to a relapse.
Insomnia is a very common condition and it is believed that up to half the population experience it at least once in their life. It involves more than just an occasional sleepless night and there are actually a number of different types of insomnia:
- Transient insomnia: when a person is unable to sleep for a few days but less than a week
- Acute insomnia: lasts more than a week but less than a month
- Chronic insomnia: when a person is unable to sleep for longer than a month.
It is usual for people in early recovery to suffer from transient or acute insomnia. This may only occur during the withdrawal stage, as the person is usually kept awake by uncomfortable symptoms (for example, restless leg syndrome). Those developing post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) could find that their insomnia lasts significantly longer, sometimes even become chronic; PAWS can last up to two years (although the symptoms should be improving all the time).
Another reason why many experience insomnia in early recovery is that they do not have a regular sleeping pattern. It is usual for those involved in substance abuse to live a chaotic lifestyle with no regular time for going to bed and getting up. This means that upon becoming sober, they have to become accustomed to an unfamiliar sleeping pattern.
The most likely reason why individuals experience insomnia in early recovery is that they have not experienced natural sleep in a long time. It is common for alcoholics to pass out rather than fall asleep. This means that they have ‘forgotten’ how to sleep without chemical assistance.
The negative effects of insomnia can severely affect a person’s life and include:
- symptoms of depression
- inability to focus
- mood swings
- weight gain due to being too tired to exercise
- no energy to enjoy life
- poor reaction time
- clumsiness and increased risk of accidents
- deterioration in the effectiveness of the immune system
- increased risk of health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
The biggest danger of insomnia for those in early recovery is that it can make it hard to enjoy living sober. This could mean the person deciding that staying away from alcohol or drugs is just not worth the effort. Those feeling tired all the time will be far less able to defend themselves against the temptation to relapse.
A few days of poor sleep will unlikely be too damaging, but it is important that insomnia does not become prolonged. Some things that can be done to prevent this from happening include:
- deciding on a regular sleeping schedule and sticking to it
- avoiding caffeine drinks from the afternoon onwards
- learning relaxation techniques and practicing these prior to going to bed
- removing TVs and other entertainment devices from the bedroom
- only using the bedroom for sleeping
- getting plenty of exercise during the day
- getting out of bed if unable to sleep – it is not a good idea to lie in bed awake because the brain can begin to associate being in bed with being awake
- seeking medical advice if insomnia lasts more than a couple of weeks.