Maintaining a balanced diet and keeping active are the highly emphasized aspects of addiction recovery that help keep you on the right track. However, making sure you get enough sleep every night is just as important to your health and to the prevention of any potential relapse.
The Dangers of Poor Sleep
Research has proven that people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Failure to do so can be so detrimental to your health that you might be unknowingly shortening your life span. Your sleep schedule is determined by your circadian rhythms, the cyclical patterns in the brain that help to modify neurological activity at night so that you can sleep soundly and for longer periods of time. Years of substance abuse can throw off your circadian rhythms, and even though the substances are no longer in your system, the rhythms can still be off – and are often more unbalanced than before.
As your body continues to adjust and heal from years of addiction, it may take some time to develop normal sleeping patterns. Many people in early addiction recovery experience bouts of insomnia that can last for extended periods of time. Sleep disorders are actually five times higher for people in recovery compared to the general public. This can pose a significant risk for relapse as those in recovery may be driven to extreme emotional distress due to lack of sleep.
The Link Between Sleep and Relapse
If you are a recovering alcoholic who is tempted to drink for the purpose of getting a good night’s sleep, then you should know that alcohol interferes with your natural sleep cycles. You will wake up frequently during the night. A staggering 60 percent of alcoholics in recovery who suffer from insomnia will relapse within five months, as alcohol being used to treat insomnia is not only ineffective but dangerous to your recovery.
How to Get Better Sleep and Reduce Your Risk of Relapse
Don’t become obsessed with the fact that you can’t fall asleep at night; this will only make the situation worse. Make a sleep routine that you will realistically follow. Here are some tips to help you create that routine:
- Incorporate calming practices before bed to relax and clear your mind of the day’s clutter. Devote 30 mins to mindfulness techniques such as practicing breathing exercises, soaking in a nice warm bath, or reading a good book.
- Pay attention to what you eat close to bedtime. You will want to avoid caffeinated drinks or foods four to six hours before bedtime, as they will keep you up longer and cause your mind to race. It isn’t a good idea to eat too much before bed, but don’t leave yourself hungry either! Bananas are actually a good choice to eat if you want a little evening snack or healthy dessert. They are packed with the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan that turns into serotonin and melatonin in the brain, naturally promoting sleepiness and relaxation.
- Exercise can be a big help with increasing sleep. Incorporating simple exercises daily, such as a brisk walk, can help you feel nice and tired in the evenings. You should avoid any high cardio or strenuous workouts close to bedtime, as this may cause you to be energetic for too long.
- Try to reduce sound and eliminate light as much as possible in your room when it’s time for bed. All electronics should be turned off so as to not pose any potential distractions. To really optimize your room for sleeping, you can add blackout curtains to prevent any form of light from seeping into your room, use earplugs to block out environmental noises, and turn on a humidifier, which produces white noise and creates a calming atmosphere.
Once you have slipped into bed and have made all of your preparations to relax and drift off to sleep, you should now spend a few minutes thinking about all of the things for which you are grateful – your family, employment, sponsor, or just the fact that you made it through one more day sober. As you count your blessings, you will decrease any stress left over from the day and sleep more soundly.