Your Ultimate Guide to Sleeping Well in Addiction Recovery

Sleep quality isn’t talked about much in our society – in fact, we tend to idolize less sleep in favor of work, socializing, celebratory drinks, etc. The problem begins when we start losing good, quality sleep that’s needed for optimal functioning – and because of this, we tend to experience more irritability and less productivity as the negative cycle continues. Addiction recovery is a time for us to restore some of the much-needed aspects of our lives – such as sleep – after having missed out on it (or some of it, at least) on so many different occasions. If you’re ready to make the most of your recovery and improve your sleep, you first need to understand how sleep is impacted by addiction and how it is experienced in recovery.

How Does Addiction Affect Sleep?

In 2018, a person shared their story of substance abuse via Workit Health, a website that publishes information on addiction recovery. They stated,

“When I kept myself to drinks in the afternoon only, or pot in the evening, [it] was all I could think about, trudging through the day until it was time to drink or drug…The addiction naturally progressed…I’d wake up the next day, not remembering anything. That was how my moderation went.”

As Tuck, an organization dedicated to promoting research on sleep, indicates, those with addiction are 5 to 10 times more likely to have a comorbid sleep disorder – and this is because alcohol and other substances can significantly break up a person’s sleep routine. Long term substance abuse changes the brain’s physical structure, which sets the mind and body up to crave substances – without any care to what time of night it is. Many people find that they begin using substances to “function” the way they’d like during the day, only to become reliant upon them at night, too. A 2017 study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry found that substances can create a number of sleep disruptions for individuals, including:

  •    Difficulty initiating sleep
  •    Poor sleep quality
  •    Daytime sleepiness

As a result, it’s not uncommon for alcohol or other drugs to continue to be used as a method for falling asleep – but this only perpetuates bad sleeping habits.

Sleep and Addiction Recovery: What Happens

Once a person is in recovery, their mind and body must adjust to live without substances. Detoxification is the first step, and while the first few weeks are incredibly uncomfortable, they’re needed in order for a person to begin the healing process. The study aforementioned reminds us that between 35-91% of those who’ve abused substances report sleeping complaints, and this is because the body’s natural rhythm for sleep has been disrupted.

The sleep-wake cycle in human beings is influenced by lightness and darkness associated with day and night, along with the body’s natural biological process. Substances tend to amp up neuronal activity in the brain, however, and this is what the brain must recover from over time – which means that for awhile, sleep may feel less than optimal until a person gets back on track. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains that if you believe you may have a sleeping disorder, it’s important to assess some of the symptoms you’re experiencing so that your healthcare team can work with you on creating a personalized form of treatment. You can greatly help your treatment team by keeping a “sleep diary” or log where you talk about the following factors pertaining to your sleep:

  •   Total time in bed
  •   Time you went to sleep
  •   Total number of times you woke up
  •   Total amount of time spent awake

Relapse dreams are yet another occurrence that can make sleeping difficult for those in early recovery; when relapse dreams occur, a person may feel as though they’ve truly relapse – and it can feel so real that a person awakens in a panic. Earlier this year, researchers concluded that relapse dreams occur more for those with a severe alcohol or drug addiction history – but thankfully, the intensity of these dreams has been shown to dissipate as the mind and body become more accustomed to abstinence.

Improving Sleep in Addiction Recovery

Sleep hygiene can be incredibly beneficial for improving sleep quality, and it truly encompasses all other aspects of life, too. By learning how to manage stress appropriately – as well as eating healthier, making your bed each day, maintaining a clean room, taking a nice relaxing shower, reading, or meditating before bed, you can increase your chances of sleeping better each night.

There are many forms of holistic treatment that can be used to help those with sleeping disorders, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), neurofeedback therapy, exercise, active meditation (such as paired muscle relaxation), and many more. By talking with your therapist, you can devise a plan that works best to suit your needs. If you’re ready to begin your journey towards healing and restoration, speak with a professional from the Burning Tree today. It’s never too late.



Burning Tree West is a transitional college program dedicated to helping adults between the ages of 18 and 29 recover from addiction. Our campus is located in Tucson, Arizona, near the campuses of the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. Our program is designed to help young adults overcome addiction, build foundational life skills, and pursue their educational and career goals. Contact us today for more information.