Many addictions begin as a way of self-medicating.
People that suffer from depression, insomnia, post traumatic syndrome, and a slew of other issues may have initially found some relief from their ailment in alcohol or other substances. Self-medicating only works for a while, until it does not work anymore, as anyone with an addiction or in recovery well knows. Whether an addiction first began so that you could turn off your brain and get some sleep, or from some other reason, early recovery is often filled with sleepless nights as our body adjusts to going to sleep without chemicals.
Ever since I was little, I have always had a problem turning off my brain at night. Once I found alcohol, I would have a drink or two at night to help me sleep. Within a short period of time, this turned into a major problem in my life. It effected my children, my job, my health, my emotions, and my spirit. When I stopped drinking, I was back to racing thoughts at night which caused many sleepless nights.
No matter what substance has been abused, many people in early recovery experience sleep problems. There are many reasons for this, among them: a constant supply of a substance in the body has helped the body to sleep, once we stop using, we feel all of the emotions that we suppressed, feelings of guilt and shame occupy our thoughts, we may have drug or drunk dreams, and racing thoughts about anything and everything can keep us awake at night.
Not getting the proper amount of rest can disrupt our lives and ultimately effect our recovery. When tired, our tempers are shorter, emotions are on edge, and the world may seem gloomier. Depression can even set in.
Below are some tips to help get into a better sleep pattern as your body adjusts to falling asleep without being alcohol or drug induced.
- Getting some physical exercise during the day helps relieve stress, releases endorphins, and helps your body rest better at night. It is not good to exercise too close to bedtime, as that may keep you awake because it releases adrenaline.
- Develop a regular schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and rise at the same time every morning. Try to keep to the same schedule even on days off from work.
- It has been proven that spending time on electronics (phone, ipad, computer, etc.) may keep you awake at night. Try to not use electronics for at least an hour before bedtime.
- It is a good idea not to have a television in the bedroom. If so, do not turn it on when you are going to sleep. The body and brain need to recognize the bed and bedroom as time for sleep.
- Read a book. Reading in bed helps to take the mind off of the worries or stressors of the day. It is good to have a night light or lamp right next to your bed, so that when your eyes and mind tire from reading, you can turn off the light and go to sleep.
- Drink non caffeinated beverages after 3:00 p.m.
- If you are lying in bed wide awake, it is better to get up and do something than to try to force yourself to sleep.
- Avoid sleeping during the day. If you are exhausted during the day, it is better to try to stay awake and retire a bit earlier in the evening. A cat nap can sometimes ruin a good nights’ sleep.
- Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and/or meditation. This puts us more in tune with our bodies. When lying in bed awake, being mindful of breathing and tenseness, and being able to relax your body can be very helpful in getting yourself to sleep.
For most people in recovery, sleeping patterns will get better within a few weeks after all substances have left the body. When this happens, it will feel so good to wake up clear minded and energetic that you may forget all of those sleepless nights!