There is a quote by voice actor JoJo Jensen that states, “Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” While this is an amusing image, the truth in it is very real. Our emotional state falters when we are deprived of sleep.
The Importance of Sleep
Regardless of what causes insomnia, the need to combat it and regain your body’s restful healing state is imperative to both your physical and mental well-being. Sleep and its ability to repair the body and mind are especially important to people in recovery.
Chicken or Egg Question
Insomnia can be a cause or an effect. The frustration of not being able to sleep causes anxiety, which in turn feeds the insomnia cycle. Having insomnia can cause a dependency on substances that induce sleep and relaxation. These substances – whether prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal – are not the answer, however tempting they can be.
Using substances to induce sleep can actually make insomnia worse. Your body, when it becomes dependent on these sleep aids, will become less able to fall asleep without their use. The naturally-occurring hormones and enzymes that cause sleep will diminish as the body uses less of them in favor of the artificial chemicals. Because of this, falling asleep without substance use becomes increasingly difficult or impossible. The changes in body chemistry due to substance use also makes dosing medications difficult for physicians.
Conversely, substance use of any kind can cause insomnia. The most obvious example of this is with energy-producing substances. When the body is over-stimulated by substances that keep a person active and alert, this can make sleep difficult.
When Counting Sheep Isn’t Working
Unfortunately, insomnia is not an uncommon problem on the path to substance abuse recovery. It is reported that insomnia can be as much as five times more common among people in the early stages of recovery as it is in the general population. For people already in a changed-up life just learning how to handle their sobriety, insomnia can be especially frustrating and stressful.
So, what is someone to do if they’re struggling with insomnia while in recovery? The most favorable option is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). When using CBT to handle sleep disruptions, focus is placed primarily on strategies for coping with stress, healthy sleep practices, stimulus control, addressing negative thought patterns, sleep journaling/questionnaires, and sleep restriction. Together, these practices retrain the brain to associate the bed with sleep and to enter a sleep state while in the bed.
Relaxation training is also a therapeutic intervention that can be used in much the same way as CBT. There are a number of helpful videos on YouTube and other websites that address such topics as mindful meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis, and deep breathing exercises – all of which are touted on Everyday Health.
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Getting a good night’s sleep is restorative and healing. It also gives you clarity in your thinking and decision-making, allowing you to continue making favorable progress in your ongoing recovery. Even just one night of lost sleep can decrease your ability to make effective decisions. Just as personal hygiene is essential to physical well-being, so is our “sleep hygiene.” Getting into good pre-bed habits that work against sleeplessness can be beneficial to all aspects of one’s health.
The Department of Psychology at UNT-Denton performed a study that determined people suffering from insomnia had a greater occurrence of depression and anxiety than the general population. Sleep itself reduces stress levels, and stress is one of the major relapse triggers.
St. Gregory Recovery Center is committed to helping in every aspect of the recovery journey, and the staff are ready with ideas and guidance for dealing with insomnia. Through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, the issues causing insomnia can be addressed and dealt with individually. Whether it’s mental health, an underlying physical ailment, or simply stress and anxiety over the changes related to sobriety, nothing is insurmountable with help!