I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good night’s sleep in recovery. As I mentioned in an earlier post, individuals in recovery should not allow themselves to get too hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sick. Being tired is a major trigger for relapse in recovering addicts and alcoholics. Recovery is a gradual journey taken one day at a time, and sleep is one of the biggest factors in determining whether you have a good day or a bad day.
Even for people not in recovery, sleep deprivation has negative consequences. Driving while drowsy can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. In the United States, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.1” Drowsiness and fatigue also negatively impacts mood and work performance. The feeling of struggling to stay awake can make any class, meeting, or eight-hour shift feel like an eternity.
If you are trying to quit a drug or alcohol habit, you can add “potential trigger for relapse” to the list of negative consequences for not getting enough sleep. For me personally, when I was in my own active addiction, insomnia and sleep deprivation were the biggest triggers for me to take drugs or drink. I remember that awful feeling of rolling out of bed after hardly sleeping and having to face an entire day of work ahead. I felt like I just couldn’t be allowed to feel that bad… I had to get through the day without feeling like death. As it turns out, using drugs and alcohol interferes with normal sleep habits! Drugs were both the cause of and the solution to my sleeping problems.
Alcoholics and drug addicts often feel compelled to get drunk or high because they want to feel good all the time. Any negative emotion or feeling is something that cannot be tolerated must be escaped. Sleep deprivation is an enormous source of negative feelings, especially in today’s fast-paced world of constant internet connections, Wi-Fi, and notifications from apps that keep a person’s phone blinking and vibrating all throughout the night.
Many drug and alcohol users report trouble sleeping in recovery, especially for those who used “downers” such as benzodiazepines or opiates. These sleeping habits will persist throughout detoxification, but will generally ease when the body and mind adjust to no longer being constantly intoxicated.
I strongly suggest making good sleep habits a top priority in your recovery. Sleep is so important, I even suggest that if you have obligations or responsibilities that prevent you from getting enough sleep, do what you can to eliminate them wherever possible. Plan your entire day around your night. Eight hours of sleep is not some unrealistic goal, it is genuinely achievable.
The key to getting enough sleep is to limit caffeine consumption, eliminate distractions, and have a “winding down” period at night before bed. Caffeine shouldn’t be consumed eight hours before bed. If you are a heavy phone user, try putting your phone in Airplane Mode when you go to sleep to prevent being awoken by notifications or text messages. An hour before bed, you should not be on the computer, playing video games, watching TV or listening to music. Reading in a quiet room will allow your mind time to wind down and get ready for sleep. And when you’re actually in bed, try to avoid thinking about your life. Try meditation and prayer. I have even found that using my imagination works well: exploring my imagination puts me in a dreamy state of consciousness in which I fall asleep faster. I also recommend going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day. These habits may seem difficult or impossible to you, but if you value your recovery, you will see the value of a healthy body and mind. And a healthy body and mind begin with a good night’s sleep.
Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdrowsydriving/