What’s So Important About Sleep?
We spend about 33% of our lives sleeping. This time spent with our eyes closed, whether we’re aware of it or not, is for recharging, healing, and even memory recovery.
Therefore, it’s easy to understand why poor quality or lack of sleep affects many areas of our lives. And for those struggling with substance abuse or addiction, sleep can often make or break your recovery journey.
While it’s true that different substances impact sleep differently—a stimulant, a depressant, or some combination of the two all have their distinctions—they can each have long-term effects.
So, even though getting a good night’s sleep might not be at the top of your list of concerns in early sobriety, it is a key component to avoiding relapse.
Is Disturbed Sleep a Predictor of Relapse?
It’s widely known that studies have shown that insomnia may be a predictor of substance abuse relapse. Having good sleep and enough sleep can help make provide tools to someone early in their recovery journey in resisting triggers and temptations, as well as make better decisions.
One recent study expanded this scope and concluded that “self-efficacy for sleep, dysfunctional beliefs about sleep, and sleep-related behavior were all significantly associated with both sleep quality and relapse.” In other words, both what you do and think about sleep can have an impact on your potential for relapse. Moreover, those struggling with alcohol abuse seem to be particularly vulnerable to this connection between sleep and relapse.
Undoubtedly, sleep isn’t the only factor present in relapse prevention. Community support, marital status, age, and profession all play their roles in a person’s susceptibility to relapse.
Importance of Circadian Rhythms
One aspect connected to sleep disturbances is what’s known as your “circadian rhythm.” These rhythms regulate a variety of body functions, including our waking-sleeping body clock and even mood and cognition.
On one hand, there is much more research to be done on the connection between substance abuse and the regulation of these rhythms. But on the other hand, there are enough studies to establish that “circadian mechanisms ay partially account for the well-documented association between sleep disturbance and substance abuse.”
Moods, cognitive function, an decision making can all be affected by how your circadian rhythm is functioning. The best way to maintain a healthy rhythm is to try and keep as regular of a schedule as possible—go to sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light. Your body-clock will adjust and begin to regulate more stable sleep patterns.
In exceptions where there are other factors at play in disturbing circadian rhythms, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor, mentor, or support group.
Better Sleep Can Improve Decision-Making
When new information is stored in the brain, we can access it with greater ease. For example, when we begin to live sober lives and work through our addiction cycles, these lessons are stored in our brains. And so when a trigger troubling situation arises, we need this information readily available for our bodies and brains.
When we get enough sleep and with better quality, it helps prepare our brains to access these newly acquired lessons making it easier to make better decisions.
But we need to address insomnia, anxiety, depression, too much caffeine, new routines, and even boredom in order to cultivate good sleep practices. The tips below can help you begin your journey of healthy sleep habits in tandem with your recovery.
Tips for Better Sleep Practices
Get Enough Sleep:
Aim for seven hours or more of sleep every night. If you’ve had a few short nights and have fallen behind, the best remedy is to return to your healthy sleep schedule as soon as possible.
Keep a Routine:
Try to keep a regular schedule by waking up and going to bed at the same times. Even on weekends, it’s key to maintain your circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that helps regulate your sleep/wake patterns. A rhythm works best by repetition, so keep your routine whenever possible.
Wake Up to Natural Light:
Exposure to the natural light of the sun first thing in the morning lets your circadian rhythm know that it’s time to be awake. Similarly, keep things dark while you’re trying to let your body know it’s sleep time.
Minimize Electronics Before Sleep:
The lights and flashes of our phones, TVs, and tablets can disturb our bodies natural clocks. This is especially true for the “blue light” from mobile phones.
Keep it Cool, Dark, and Quiet:
Environment matters in our sleeping area. Cooler temperatures, minimal lights, and quietness let our bodies know that it’s time to sleep. In order to get into deep sleep, our core body temperature needs to be lower than it normally is.
Keep Your Sleeping Area About Sleep:
It’s helpful for our sleep environment to move non-sleep activities out of the bedroom. Things like working, studying, or watching TV in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep routine. By removing non-sleep activities from your sleep area, you signal to your brain and body what it means to rest.
Exercise can help you sleep better at night, especially if it’s the right time of day and the right amount. For those early in recovery, exercise can also be a way to stave off boredom and keep your mind focused. Any type of new and healthy habits can help you replace the bad ones with good ones. But remember, don’t over-exercise or sacrifice sleep to exercise. Early morning workouts can have the opposite effect when we’re not getting enough sleep to begin with.
All in all, establishing a healthy sleep routine doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedication and intention. Many people find it helpful to get started on a healthy schedule while in an inpatient treatment program. It’s keeping the routine afterwards that matters. For information about residential treatment to help you on your recovery journey, reach out to Impact Recovery Center today.