The Link Between Insomnia and Relapse

Insomnia is common in the modern world, and you don’t have to be an addict to suffer from the sleep condition. If you’ve dealt with insomnia in your personal life, you know just how difficult everything becomes. The nights are restless and frustrating because you can’t stay asleep, while the days are long, tense and tiring because you aren’t sleeping well. Insomnia can take its toll on relationships, careers and the ability to lead a healthy, wholesome life.

When coupled with addiction, insomnia becomes a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, insomnia is very, very common in addicts and recovering addicts. And, just because the drug is stopped does not mean that the body returns to normal. It has a lot of healing to do, and it needs to relearn a healthy sleeping schedule. This takes time, patience and practice. However, not sleeping can bring a recovering addict to the edge and may cause them to relapse.

Insomnia, Addiction, and Relapse: A Dangerous Trio

The sleeping habits of humans are regulated by circadian rhythms. These are cyclical patterns in the brain that alter neurological activity during the nighttime so that a person can sleep comfortably and for a long period of time. There are many things that can interfere with the circadian rhythm, and drugs are one of them.

Not only do drugs and alcohol affect the circadian rhythm, but also a healthy lifestyle in general. Addicts are so focused on getting their next high, they don’t make time for good quality sleep at the end of the day. They lose the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own and instead count on drugs to get them there.

The trouble is that when these substances are suddenly taken away, the circadian rhythms are confused even more. That’s why insomnia often gets worse in early recovery, and this can create a vicious cycle. Post-recovery insomnia can be so debilitating, recovering addicts may return to drinking or drugs to end their sleeplessness, but an alcohol-induced sleep is not an effective form of rest.

What Comes First? Insomnia or Addiction?

When discussing the link between insomnia and addiction, it’s similar to the chicken and egg conversation: which came first? Or, cognitive disorders and addiction: is it depression that leads to drug abuse, or drug abuse that leads to depression?

Researchers agree that there is no simple cause-and-effect relationship between insomnia and addiction. To complicate this further, researchers from the University of Michigan found that children ages 3-5 who had sleep difficulties were twice as likely to develop substance abuse problems during their teen years, as opposed to children who slept peacefully.

No matter what the facts are, recovering addicts cannot use insomnia as an excuse to relapse. They must understand that while insomnia is a likely condition to have, especially in early recovery, there are things that can be done to foster a healthy sleep schedule and keep on track with their recovery goals.

Healthy Ways to Deal with Insomnia

The first step in overcoming insomnia is quitting drugs and alcohol – for good. These substances DO NOT improve sleep in any way, so don’t let your loved one try to convince you otherwise.

The brain has a way of focusing on the fact that the body can’t sleep before it’s actually time to sleep, so another helpful suggestion is to make the bedroom a place of rest and nothing else. Don’t let your loved one use the bedroom for watching TV, playing on a computer or listening to music. All distractions should be removed. The only thing that can stay is a white noise generator.

If the addict cannot sleep after going to bed, then there’s no point in trying to force the issue. This is when frustration sets in and the mind can start playing tricks. Instead, your loved one should get up and try to do something else such as reading a book, having a high-protein snack or listening to soft music. Having these things available for your loved one will be helpful.

Keeping a diary can be constructive as well, as your loved one can release some of the things that are worrying them before bedtime. Encourage them to mention their sleep problems during AA meetings, because they may be able to get helpful suggestions about handling this issue from others who have been through it.

Some people need a little more assistance when falling and staying asleep, but keeping clean and sober is the first step to ending insomnia.

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