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April 13, 2019

Get Some Rest to Prevent Relapse

Chronic stress increases your risk of relapse into drug use. And fatigue (physical or mental) increases your risk of becoming chronically stressed. So getting adequate rest is one important element of relapse prevention.

That’s not always as easy as going to bed on schedule: if your brain is used to high-anxiety mode and especially if you’ve recently detoxed from addiction, your mind and body may fight rest even when you’re physically lying down. Ask your therapist for help making a learn-to-relax plan that fits you. Here are some general tips to get started:

HAVE A SET BEDTIME AND A SET GETTING-UP TIME

Ideally, these should be the same on work days and non-work days, to keep your body clock on a uniform (i.e., low-stress) routine. Whether or not you can bring yourself to completely ignore the sleep-late-on-weekends norm, consider these ideas for keeping sleep hours consistent:

  • Don’t vary to-bed or to-rise times by more than 90 minutes.
  • If you constantly wake up tired, go to bed half an hour earlier for a week and see if that helps. (You may need to experiment a bit to find your ideal bedtime.)
  • If you use an alarm clock, put it away for two weeks and see when you normally wake up on your own. If that time differs from your customary “alarm time,” and especially if it’s more than 20 minutes later, you may not be getting enough sleep.
  • If you wake up early in the morning, go ahead and get up. Lingering in bed can teach your body to associate “in bed” with wakefulness, which increases sleep difficulties.

KEEP YOUR BEDROOM CONDUCIVE TO SLEEP

 This usually means:

  • Using a firm and level mattress
  • Setting the thermostat low enough (typically under 70 degrees Fahrenheit) that you feel snug under a blanket
  • Blocking most outside light and noise

HAVE A WINDING-DOWN ROUTINE FOR EVENINGS

In your last 1–2 hours before bed, try not to:

  • Engage in physically vigorous or mentally stimulating activity
  • Consume heavy meals, caffeine or sugar
  • Watch television or otherwise use any electronic screen

Instead, have a regular routine of physically and mentally relaxing activities. Try some of the following ideas (but not all of them at once: having too much to finish is stressful in itself).

  • Enjoy a cup of herbal tea
  • Take a hot bath
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Read (in hard copy) something inspirational and peace-focused
  • Make a pen-and-paper list of good things that happened today
  • Pray or meditate, or visualize a peaceful scene

By the time you get into bed, you should be relaxed enough to fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly.

PRACTICE MENTAL RELAXING DURING THE DAY

 Your daytime routine affects your sleep, and collapsing into bed exhausted can be as bad as lying awake worrying. So if you’ve been living in strive-and-achieve mode, start taking a real break every hour or two. Stand up, stretch, walk over to a window with a view (or step outside) and take 5–10 minutes for a short meditation exercise or for just being mindful of your body and surroundings. Your energy levels and creative thinking—not to mention your relapse-prevention resilience—will thank you.

TAKE REGULAR BREAKS

 Besides brief hourly breaks, you need all the following to function at optimal level:

  • Time for a leisurely lunch. That’s not to say you should overeat, but do move from your work station to an eating area with a pleasant atmosphere. Chew your food slowly, fully savoring aroma and flavor. Besides the actual meal, take time for some pleasant conversation or a short walk before returning to work.
  • At least one full day off every week. People of any religion or none can learn from the Jewish Sabbath tradition: set aside all “accomplishing” and “creating” activities, leave the screens turned off, and spend the day in “timeless” activities such as sitting with loved ones or strolling outdoors.
  • At least two to four weeks of vacation each year. Do not bring work with you or call in to your office. Check your email once every two days at most.

Don’t fall into the “I don’t have time for time off” trap. You get more done overall when you take time to refresh your energy and clear your head.

STAY PHYSICALLY FIT

 While exercising late in the evening makes it harder to fall asleep, exercising earlier in the day improves sleep by improving overall energy balance. Exercise may also reduce anxiety (and relapse temptations) by increasing your sense of control. Remember, either feeling like a victim or trying to control everything will put you at greater relapse risk. A vital part of recovery is knowing when to take control (activity) and when to release control (rest). Practice both regularly.

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