• The Role of Sleep in Sobriety
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    The Role of Sleep in Sobriety

    We all know sleep is fundamentally important. Even missing just a couple hours of rest outside of your routine one night can throw you off for a day or two. For those who have chronic sleep problems, the consequences are much more bleak. Ongoing disturbances in sleep can cause issues ranging from lowered cognitive functioning to an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. For the average person, making adjustments that result in better sleep can have monumental benefits.

    Those who regularly get a good night’s sleep enjoy improved memory and overall cognitive functioning, improved sexual functioning, less pain, a lowered risk of accidents and injuries, improved weight control and even longer lives. The verdict is clear: everyone, whether you’re a recovering addict or not, needs a solid sleep routine.

    For those who have struggled with addiction, the need for good sleep is perhaps even more dire. The impact a lack of sleep can have on cognitive functioning can affect a person’s ability to fully focus on his or her recovery and grasp the consequences or warning signs of relapse. Since a lack of sleep can make a person feel agitated and cognitively deprived in various ways, some people who have struggled with addiction in the past may be tempted to turn back to drugs or alcohol as a way of dealing with their agitation, fatigue, reduced cognitive functioning or other side effects of sleep deprivation. At the same time, without proper sleep, the brain isn’t as fueled to make healthy and logical decisions as it is when adequate rest is obtained.

    To further complicate the matter, some people find that they only start suffering from sleep disturbances once they are clean. Indeed, sleep issues are a common problem for those who have just begun recovery. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep issues faced by a person who is newly clean. An addict might have relied on drugs or alcohol in the past to lull them into sleep, which encourages the body to develop a sleep cycle based on chemicals. That sleep cycle can go haywire once the chemicals are no longer in the picture. In some cases, the physical, emotional, and mental side effects of achieving sobriety are enough to keep a person awake at night during the early phase of recovery. The physical environment of rehab, which can seem like a sterile and cold place to some people when compared to home, can even keep some people awake early on in recovery.

    Sleep—or the lack thereof—can be a vicious cycle for a person who is just coming clean. Recovery is a huge life change in and of itself and big life changes can keep anyone awake. But the role of sleep in sobriety is even more complicated than sleeplessness at the hand of anxiety over the unfamiliar. With the recovery itself able to cause sleep disturbances and with the side-effects of little sleep carrying the ability to lower a person’s defenses against relapse, the issue of sleep in sobriety is one that should be taken seriously.

    As you are receiving treatment during your recovery, be sure to address your sleep with your doctor or therapist from the beginning. Even if you don’t think you’re suffering from sleep issues, try to keep a sleep journal if you can. Document how you slept upon waking and what you did leading up to sleep and/or throughout the day before you go to bed. This will equip you and your healthcare provider to swiftly address any sleep issues you have in recovery should they arise.

    Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.


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