Coping with Insomnia During Withdrawal

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Opiate or alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and painful. One common symptom is insomnia.

Category: Opioid Use Disorders

Withdrawal insomnia can include one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking frequently during the night
  • Poor sleep that is chronically not restorative

If you have these symptoms of insomnia, it is important to find ways to alleviate or cope with them. Withdrawal is physically taxing and good, restful sleep can help limit the severity of your other opiate detox symptoms, as well as help promote healthy habits and decrease the chances of relapse.

The healing properties of sleep include:

  • Triggering the release of hormones that repair cells and tissues
  • Supporting the entire immune system
  • Slowing brain aging
  • Helping you process and regulate your emotions. (This is why you feel less extreme about your feelings the next day. The expression “sleep on it” is actually true).

How to Sleep During Withdrawal

Creating a good sleep process for yourself is an important step. Insomnia is a common post-acute withdrawal symptom that can last much longer than normal withdrawal, so it’s best to start as early as possible by prioritizing sleep. The more disciplined you are, the quicker your insomnia and potentially all of your withdrawal symptoms can disappear.

1. Seek Professional Help with Withdrawals

Going to a Suboxone clinic or alcohol detox dramatically improves all of your symptoms, including your sleep. For example, medications like Suboxone for opioid addictions will improve all withdrawal symptoms making sleep much easier. Or, a doctor may prescribe a few days of sleep medication. It’s not ideal to rely on sleep medications long-term because they become habit-forming and the sleep is not as restorative, but it may be an option on the most intense days.

2. Establish a Sleep Routine

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Your body will fall in line if you stick to the schedule.

Wind down before bed with quiet activities, like reading or doing anything that will relax you before going to sleep. Try to limit your television watching before bed. If you do watch TV, keep it light. Maybe watch a comedy that puts you in a good mood.

You can also try drinking a warm cup of caffeine-free tea before bed. Meditation or yoga can also put your mind at ease.

And, stay active during the day. Creating a daily routine not only keeps your mind occupied, but it can make you more tired at the end of the day and help you get to sleep.

3. Be Careful with Naps

Naps aren’t always helpful.  Avoid taking any long naps, and limit to 20 minutes maximum. If it’s already after 2 PM, it’s too late for a nap, because it could ruin the sleep patterns you’re working hard to build.

Naps are also better proactive than reactive. So, nap on days where you know you won’t get as good of sleep rather than days after you already missed sleep. And, limit time in bed to form the association of sleep with the bed.

4. Reserve the Bed for Sleep

Monica Roberts, Ed.D LCPC at Symetria Recovery suggests creating a boundary around your bed. “If you have insomnia you should train your brain that your bed is only for sleeping and sex. Don’t lay in your bed watching TV, be on your phone or even just relaxing during the day. Train your brain that bed is only for sleep and do any other relaxing activities on the couch or chair in another room. That way, your brain only sees the bed for its intended purposes and helps to associate sleeping with laying in your bed.”

5. Set the Right Mood

Our sleep schedules are naturally synced with light. Try to keep it bright during the day and less so in the evening, and fully dark as you sleep. Turn your phone light to the lowest setting if using before bed, but try to avoid screen-time whenever possible.

And, keep the room cool. Your body temperature naturally decreases by a few degrees when you sleep, and a cooler room can help you avoid waking up from being too hot.

6. Choose Drinks with Care

Caffeine is common in recovery. But, keep in mind that twelve hours after you drink it, a quarter of the caffeine can still be in your system. That’s like drinking a quarter of that coffee or energy drink right before you go to bed and expecting to fall asleep. You can still have caffeine, but try to cut it off before 10 AM.

If you’re withdrawing from alcohol, staying away from alcohol is obvious. It may feel like the sedative effects of alcohol will help get to sleep, but your sleep quality will be much worse and the sleep will be shorter than without alcohol. Alcohol is known to throw off REM sleep cycles and produce disrupted sleep. You will wake up feeling better without using alcohol.

Melatonin is OK

Melatonin is produced naturally in the body to help tell your body it’s time for bed. If your clock is off, melatonin in liquid, pill or gummy form can help. The downfall is that if you rely on it too much, your body may stop producing melatonin naturally. Many U.S. melatonin products have way too much per dose because consumers perceive that more means better. Instead, try to take the lowest dose that still works for you (around 3mg should be fine). It’s not meant to put you to sleep, but to as an aid to your other sleep hygiene habits.

7. Learn to Still Your Mind

Instead of trying to control racing, stressful or random thoughts, try to have no thoughts. If a thought comes to your mind, don’t get frustrated or run with that thought. Let it gently float away until you’re back to having no thoughts. If you’re having trouble, focus on your breathing. Don’t fight against your mind, but quiet it peacefully.

Learning to still your mind is the most transformative mental health exercise. Unlike chasing happiness, it teaches you how to feel peace regardless of your circumstances. It makes you more resilient against relapse and also helps you get to sleep quicker.

Combining these sleep hygiene tools and recommendations will help you establish good sleep habits and can even eliminate sleep issues. Early recovery is the perfect time to make these changes part of your nighttime routine. Once you develop good sleep patterns, it is much easier to stay consistent.

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Symetria has addiction treatment clinics across Illinois and Texas. You can likely get scheduled TODAY — medications or therapy.