5 Ways to Get Better Sleep in Addiction Recovery

Getting enough quality sleep is one of the best things you can do for your recovery and to improve your life in general. Deep sleep is when your body heals from injury and illness and it’s when your brain sifts through everything that happened during the day, turning the important stuff into long-term memories and discarding the rest. Sleep is also when your brain takes out the trash. Your brain cells produce a lot of waste that becomes toxic if it is allowed to build up. When you sleep, that waste is collected in the brain’s ventricles and flushed out of the brain.

Several studies have also found that lack of sleep increases anxiety. One brain imaging study found that sleep deprivation leads to increased activity in the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, regions responsible for emotional processing and the fight-or-flight response. This heightens your anticipatory anxiety, as you might feel, say, before a test or when experiencing a craving. Other studies on sleep and anxiety have shown similar results, including one study that found people with insomnia were about 10 times more likely to have depression and about 17 times more likely to have an anxiety disorder. Much of that effect probably goes the other way as well, since depression and anxiety typically disturb sleep, but at least one intervention study  has found that missing a night of sleep increases perceived anxiety by an average of 20 percent.

The good news is that the anxiety, poor concentration, and poor self-control caused by sleep deprivation can be reversed pretty quickly by a few nights of quality sleep. However, for people in recovery, especially early on, a good night’s sleep can be hard to get. Anxiety, irritability, and insomnia are common withdrawal symptoms that may persist for weeks or months. If you could use more quality sleep, here are some suggestions.

Cut down on caffeine.

No one likes to hear this advice, but it can make a huge difference. One study conducted by the Vanderbilt Addiction Center at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine found that nearly 89 percent of AA members drink coffee daily and a third of members drink more than four cups a day. That compares to about 64 percent of the general American public who drink coffee daily. AA members typically report drinking so much coffee because it makes them feel better, helps them focus, and feel more alert.

However, that caffeine can also increase your baseline level of anxiety and possibly keep you from sleeping. Caffeine has a halflife of about four to six hours, meaning that if you have a cup of coffee in the afternoon, at least a quarter of that caffeine will still be in your system when you go to bed. The stimulatory effects of the caffeine will likely have ended by then, but the caffeine molecules will still be blocking some of the adenosine receptors in your brain. As a result, you may feel tired but still unable to sleep. Even if you decide not to quit caffeine completely, it’s usually best to make noon the absolute cutoff.

Have a regular sleep schedule.

Sleep is a complicated process that depends on the coordination of many different hormones. If your sleep schedule is erratic, the timing of your circadian rhythm is likely to be thrown off, making it harder for you to sleep. On the other hand, having a regular sleep schedule allows your body to get used to a certain rhythm and prepare in advance as the time approaches for you to go to sleep or wake up. A regular sleep schedule has other benefits as well. For one, it forces you to block off adequate sleep time every night. You’re less likely to make plans too late or too early if you are committed to protecting your sleep. Second, it becomes a habit, so don’t have to expend too much mental energy going to bed or getting up at a reasonable time. Bedtime approaches, so you get ready for bed. Healthy habits make good choices easier.

Have a regular bedtime routine.

Just as it’s important to have a regular bedtime, it’s also important to have a regular bedtime routine. It doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate, just two or three things you do in a regular order as bedtime approaches. This is typically a good time to start winding down. Instead of watching the news or an exciting TV show, it’s often better to engage in some relaxing activity. This may be a good time to do some of the things in your recovery plan, such as journaling, prayer, or meditation. The late evening is a good time for reflection and relaxation. The calmer you are approaching bedtime, the better you are likely to sleep.

Practice good sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene refers to creating a healthy sleeping environment. Perhaps the most important part of this is to make sure your room is dark and quiet. You may want to invest in a sleep mask and ear plugs to reduce your chances of being disturbed by light or noise during the night. Also, it’s typically better to sleep in a cool room; between 65 and 70 degrees is best. Finally, make sure to only use the bed for sleeping and sex. You want your brain to associate the bed with sleep. It’s especially important that you don’t lie in bed looking at your phone or watching TV. The light signals your body that it’s time to wake up and having something addictive to do like scroll through Facebook keeps you from trying to sleep.

Get some exercise.

It may sound counterintuitive, but exercise helps you sleep better. For one, many studies have shown that regular exercise reduces feelings of anxiety and depression, which are often a barrier to sleep. Also, you body wants to recovery after strenuous exercise, so you often sleep more deeply. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime because the increase in adrenaline and cortisol might keep you up. Give yourself at least two hours between finishing exercise and going to bed.

Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Valiant Living offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Valiant fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463