Insomnia During Drug and Alcohol Recovery

Kitten sleeping on the heart-shaped pillowThe Slumber Yard Team shared that for the estimated 21.7 million people each year who seek substance use treatment, the journey is long and full of challenges. As many people in recovery know, the path forward typically involves mild to severe interruptions in your sleeping patterns. We’ll walk you through the science behind why, and provide strategies and resources to support you along the way. For those who are supporting a friend or family member through recovery, this insight can be invaluable in understanding what’s going on in your loved one’s life right now.

Recovery and Sleep

There are multiple links between recovery and sleep disturbances. For one, those in recovery have increased sleep disturbances, which seems to be a commonly shared experience regardless of the substances they used before recovery took place.

Individuals who are in recovery may also have previously found drug and alcohol use helpful in treating underlying sleep problems due to the sedative effects of substances like alcohol and cannabis. The Drug and Alcohol Center and the Cleveland Clinic conducted a survey completed by those admitted for substance abuse treatment. The study focused on sleep behaviors and found that 46% of alcoholic patients who were surveyed used substances to help them medicate their sleep patterns. By taking that substance away, the body is forced to reach sleep in different ways, which can result in issues like weird dreams, rapid limb movements, and or insomnia.

As we’ll discuss in this article, sleep disturbances during recovery can also increase the risk of relapse. The experience of sleep deprivation can be so difficult that some may turn back to their original substances to find reprieve.

Taking the significant correlation between sleep patterns and substances used into consideration, it’s important to understand how the recovery process may impact sleep.

According to a study published by the NCBI, “the effects of chronic use on sleep are similar among both CNS stimulants and depressants.” They found that chronic substance abuse, regardless of the drug (opiates, cocaine, cannabis, or alcohol), commonly leads to a decline in time spent asleep, an increase in time spent trying to fall asleep, and a decrease in non-REM sleep or slow-wave sleep.

REM vs. SWS Sleep

There are two patterns of sleep people encounter, with slow-wave sleep (SWS) being the most common and frequent type of sleep. This is where the brain waves are lower. Slow wave sleep is very deep sleep, essential for those in recovery to feel refreshed in the morning and prepared to take on the day, especially at a time like this.

Then there’s Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. As its name suggests, the subject’s eyes remain closed but there’s much movement during this time, as the person dreams. This is less common sleep, as young adults are in REM 25% of the time.

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