Addiction Recovery Tips: Why Sleep Hygiene is Good for Recovery
There’s a lot to think about and put into practice when you start on the path to recovery from addiction. If you’ve gone through professional treatment, you’ve likely gotten quite an education on the disease of addiction and how to recognize triggers and what to do to prevent relapse. Furthermore, as part of the relapse prevention kit you undoubtedly created prior to completing rehab, you listed good self-care as a priority.
One essential element of good self-care in addiction recovery is getting a consistent good night’s sleep. In fact, sleep disruptions and inadequate quality of sleep can undermine much of the progress you’ve already made. Here’s an in-depth look at why sleep hygiene is not only good for recovery, but essential.
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE?
Everyone knows that hygiene refers to practices that help maintain good health, yet many may not be familiar with sleep hygiene. In a way, it’s the same concept: practices you institute and carry out that help ensure you get a restful, continuous sleep. Just as eating well aids in overall health, good sleep habits help promote nighttime quality sleep and daytime alertness. Sleep hygiene is even more important for those who are in recovery from addiction, since they’re also overcoming physical and mental deficits caused by substance abuse.
WHY YOU NEED GOOD SLEEP IN RECOVERY
If you’re determined to overcome deficiencies or disturbances in sleep, you’re on the right track. Yet, even though you know good sleep is necessary for optimum health and have some inkling you need better sleep to promote healthier recovery, you may not know some of the many ways sleep affects recovery.
Sleep is restorative.
You need a clear head to make the right decisions to continue making progress in your recovery. Getting a good night’s sleep helps you make the appropriate choices. Lack of sleep diminishes the brain’s ability to focus, to retain information, solve problems and make decisions.
Irritability decreases with healthy sleep.
You’re less irritable when you’re well-rested. You also are more likely to be able to control your moods if you consistently get good sleep.
Sleep helps curb impulse actions.
After a good night’s sleep, you’re less likely to act on impulse and do things not conducive to your continuing sobriety. Chronically sleep-deprived individuals in recovery are more likely to engage in risky behavior
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP PATTERNS
Worrying over lack of sleep won’t change anything. However, taking proactive steps to get a better night’s sleep will show positive results with practice. These commonsense behavioral tips for good sleep hygiene can make a significant difference in the quality and duration of your sleep time.
1. Steer clear of caffeine and smoking before retiring.
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, known for their ability to boost alertness. This is the opposite of the effect you want when it’s time to sleep. A coffee buzz can take hours to completely wear off, so avoid those late afternoon lattes or espressos if you want to have better sleep.
2. Get in some good daily exercise.
Did you know that even 10 minutes of an exercise workout – like you’d get in cycling at the gym or outside, or walking – may improve nighttime sleep quality? It doesn’t take much physical exercise to get results. Just be sure not to do too intense an exercise routine too close to bedtime.
3. If you nap, make it short.
Some people like to take a daytime nap and that’s fine, if you keep it under 30 minutes. Why? Daytime naps do not replace or make up for a bad night’s sleep. However, a quick nap of 30 minutes or less may help boost energy, memory, performance and alertness.
4. Avoid eating food that disrupts sleep.
This includes foods that are spicy or rich, or heavy meals loaded with fat, fried foods, soda and other carbonated drinks and citrus, all of which may trigger indigestion and lead to painful heartburn when you’re trying to sleep.
5. Aim for a daily dose of sunlight.
Getting outside for some sunlight exposure on your bare skin gives you ready access for your body’s production of vitamin D.
6. Start a sleep diary.
The simple act of identifying patterns that interfere with quality sleep – like eating certain foods that give you indigestion or things you do late in the day that are too stimulating – can significantly help you improve your sleep by showing you areas to make constructive changes.
7. Creating a nightly bedtime ritual that’s relaxing.
Aim for a regimen each night that helps you relax before you nod off to sleep. For some, this may entail a soothing bath, a partner’s massage, setting out tomorrow’s wardrobe, making a list of priorities, walking the dog, petting the cat, kissing the kids good night, reading a book. If it relaxes you, use it.
8. Create and maintain a pleasant sleep environment.
In line with the last tip, it’s important that your sleep environment is as pleasant as you can make it. Sleep-conducive actions you can take for your nighttime environment include eliminating clutter, ensuring outside and other household noises don’t intrude, using high-quality pillows and comfortable bedding, reducing outside light with drapes, shades or curtains, spraying a pleasing fragrance in the air.
9. Reflect on the day that just ended.
While you’re going over what happened in your life today, take some time to think about what you’re most grateful for. This helps set the stage for sleep by creating a psychological mindset of peace and harmony.
10. Watch your diet.
Be sure, too, to watch your diet in recovery, as what you eat has a huge bearing on staying on track with your sobriety and certain foods can help reverse brain damage from substance abuse. Depending on what your doctor says, treatment with nutraceuticals may also help in overcoming nutrient deficiencies resulting from the brain being depleted of vital nutrients for proper functioning.
If you have tried similar tactics to improve your sleep hygiene and are still struggling to catch the ZZZ’s you need, you may have insomnia. Insomnia affects people from all walks of life, but it is more prevalent in recovery alcoholics.
WHAT IS INSOMNIA?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia refers to the difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early and/or not having restful sleep. According to research, as many as 30 million Americans suffer from insomnia, while about 10-15 percent of all U.S. adults experience chronic and severe insomnia that interferes with daytime functioning. Chronic insomnia occurs at least three nights a week and persists at least three months.
PREVALENCE OF INSOMNIA IN RECOVERING ALCOHOLICS
Insomnia and alcoholism have long been linked. Indeed, according to research, insomnia occurs in 36-72% of alcoholic patients and may continue for some time after sobriety is achieved. Several longitudinal studies looking at the prevalence of insomnia in recovering alcoholics found that sleep patterns remain significantly disturbed with continued abstinence. A study by Gann and colleagues found that sleep abnormalities continued after a 12-month period of abstinence, despite some subjectively-rated improvements in sleep. Other studies looking at sleep continuity in recovery from alcoholism found that although total sleep time, efficiency and latency improved in those who remained abstinent for a year, problems persisted even after two years of sobriety in the areas of increased arousals from sleep, REM disturbances and elevated sleep stages changes.
INSOMNIA LINKED TO RELAPSE IN RECOVERING ALCOHOLICS
Numerous studies have linked insomnia to relapse in alcoholics in recovery. Research has indicated, for example, that both subjective and objective baseline sleep problems are strong predictors of relapse in those who have been treated for alcoholism. Other findings have revealed that some facets of sleep remain abnormal even after 27 months of sobriety, and that sleep fragmentation and insomnia after five months of abstinence may be related to relapse by 14 months.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR INSOMNIA IN RECOVERY
Despite the persistence of insomnia well into recovery, there is hope and help to overcome sleep difficulties. Before undergoing any insomnia-focused treatment, however, be sure to consult with your addiction specialist or primary care physician to determine which may be best suited for your situation and will not interfere with or exacerbate any co-existing psychiatric or medical conditions. Among the non-pharmacological treatments for insomnia, research finds cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), an approved treatment for insomnia without the use of sleeping pills, and which has been found to benefit 70-80% of non-alcoholic patients with insomnia, may prove helpful in reducing severity, frequency and symptoms of sleeplessness, poor sleep quality and duration in recovering alcoholics as well.
CBT-I is a multi-component therapy that consists of the following:
- Sleep Restriction: This is a temporary restriction of sleep to shorter periods of time in bed (TIB) to increase the pressure or drive to sleep.
- Stimulus Control: In this aspect of CBT-I, the goal of stimulus control is to become familiar with sleep-compatible stimuli and stabilize the timing cycle of sleep and waking.
- Sleep Hygiene Education – The goal here is gaining knowledge about beneficial and detrimental practices contributing to healthy and unhealthy sleep patterns, along with the importance of establishing regular routines. Patients are introduced to common sleep hygiene recommendations.
- Relaxation Therapy: Various relaxation therapy techniques (progressive muscle control, biofeedback, visualization, thought stopping) may prove helpful for recovering alcoholics with elevated levels of arousal (cognitive or physiological) during the nighttime or daytime.
- Cognitive Therapy: The focus of cognitive therapy of behavioral treatment for insomnia involves changing the beliefs about sleep that are dysfunctional and contribute to insomnia and helping patients develop more realistic sleep expectations.
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