6 Ways to Sleep Better in Recovery

February 11, 2020

Getting plenty of quality sleep is one of the best things you can do for both your physical and mental health. In terms of physical health, a chronic sleep deficit increases your risk of many conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, and stroke. For those that have a history of substance use issues, especially alcohol or stimulants, you may already be at higher risk for these conditions and you certainly don’t want to make them worse. 

Poor Sleep Increases Mental Health Risks 

Poor sleep is also a major risk factor for mental health issues. For example, one longitudinal study followed 1000 adults for three years and found that participants who reported sleep problems at the beginning of the study were four times more likely to be diagnosed with major depression by the end. Other studies have found similar links between sleep problems and anxiety. Since the majority of people with substance use issues also have co-occurring mental health issues–particularly major depression and anxiety–protecting your mental health by prioritizing quality sleep is crucial in recovery. 

Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Sleep is important for a strong recovery. Unfortunately, insomnia is a common problem for people in the beginning stages of their sobriety. Insomnia is a common withdrawal symptom and sometimes it lingers for months. People who experience depression in the first year of recovery may also have trouble sleeping, which only makes recovery more difficult. If you’re having trouble sleeping, here are some tips to help you sleep better.


  • Talk to your doctor. 


If you’re not sleeping well or if you constantly feel tired despite regularly getting at least eight hours of sleep, the first thing to do is talk to your doctor. Many sleep disorders exist, such as sleep apnea, that could be keeping you from getting enough deep sleep. Be sure your doctor knows about your addiction history to ensure they consider this when deciding upon potential treatment options.


  • Talk to your therapist. 


If your doctor doesn’t find a medical reason as to why you’re not sleeping well, consider seeking insight from your therapist. Numerous mental health issues can cause insomnia and disturbed sleep, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. Typically, individuals that have been through an addiction treatment program have already identified and learned to cope with any co-occurring mental health issues that could be affecting their sleep. Still, it’s always possible to experience flare-ups or even new symptoms that have yet to be diagnosed or treated. Addressing these potential concerns could be your solution towards improving your sleep quality.

Your therapist can also help you deal with sleep problems directly. There’s a form of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically for insomnia, called CBT-I. CBT-I employs a number of techniques, some of which are described below. Your therapist can also help you identify any thought patterns that keep you from sleeping. Perhaps rumination is keeping you awake or maybe even anxiety about insomnia is keeping you from sleeping. Learning to manage these thoughts can help you sleep better.


  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.


One of CBT-I’s methods for improving sleep quality is known as “stimulus control therapy.” By definition, this means creating and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. Unfortunately, you can’t just flip a switch and expect your body to fall asleep. Sleep is a complex physiological process. Regular sleep patterns support your mind and body’s ability to prepare for sleeping and waking accordingly. 

Certain habits will support your ability to maintain consistent sleep and wake times throughout your weeks. First, consider avoiding naps during the day to ensure you are tired come bedtime. Second, work towards creating a strong association between your bed and sleeping. Avoid using your bed for wakeful activities such as reading, watching TV or scrolling social media. Additionally, if you spend more than 20 minutes laying in bed without falling asleep, consider getting up and do something else until you feel tired again.


  • Practice good sleep hygiene. 


Another CBT-I sleeping method is to practice good sleep hygiene. In other words, try minimizing things that could disturb your sleep. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Avoid bright lights, such as those from screens and LEDs. It’s also important to keep your sleeping environment as quiet as possible. Consider using a sleeping mask and earplugs if necessary, to create a dark, quiet environment. Additionally, sleeping in a room that’s slightly cool, about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, can have a positive effect on sleep quality. 

While you may not be aware of light and sounds disturbing your sleep, they can partially wake you, leaving you feeling less rested and more cognitively impaired. One study of older people found that participants who were exposed to even dim light while they slept were significantly more likely to develop symptoms of depression. 


  • Cut back on caffeine. 


Typically, a moderate amount of caffeine is fine and even healthy if it comes in the form of tea or coffee. However, consuming too much caffeine, or consuming caffeine too late in the evening can interfere with your sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of between four and six hours. Consequently, drinking a cup of coffee at noon will leave about a quarter of that caffeine still be in your system at bedtime. Often, this can cause insomnia or prevent you from sleeping deeply. If you can’t sleep, try cutting back on caffeine or eliminating caffeine consumption after noon.


  • Exercise. 


Research shows that regular exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep. Often, these benefits are experienced the same day that you engaged in physical activity. Scientists are unsure of exactly why this is. What we do know, is that exercise improves mood and reduces your brain’s reactivity to stress, both of which help you sleep better. Moderate aerobic exercise appears to be the most effective for improving sleep. The only caveat is that you shouldn’t exercise within about two hours of bedtime because it might keep you awake instead.

Looking for Support?

A strong recovery entails a number of positive lifestyle changes. Getting plenty of quality sleep is a solid foundation for everything else you do in recovery and in life. At Steps Recovery Centers, our holistic approach to recovery is aimed at helping our clients lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. We support our clients’ recovery in any way we can. To learn more about our alumni services, call us at 385-236-0931.

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