According to research, those in recovery from a substance abuse disorder are five times more likely to experience insomnia and are at an increased risk for relapse [1]. Whether the addict has been using stimulants like cocaine or drinking alcohol, their sleep patterns, which are governed by circadian rhythms, are deeply disrupted by drug and alcohol use. Getting sober means taking drugs and alcohol out of the equation, which unfortunately causes a lot of damage to the circadian rhythms in ones body, increasing the risk of insomnia and relapse.

Finding ways to cope with one’s insomnia is essential to ones recovery. Depression, anxiety and poor decision-making are all results of inadequate rest. Without proper sleep, one has a significantly higher chance of relapse and loses the ability to fully embrace the journey of recovery. In order to find ways to cope with insomnia, we must first look at its causes.

Causes of Insomnia

It is important to analyze insomnia from an emotional standpoint because most of the disturbances in our brains, keeping us from falling asleep at night, are caused by the pain, shame and guilt we’ve endured over the course of our lives. By the time the alcoholic/addict is ready and willing to get sober, it is likely that he or she has caused a lot of damage in their own life as well as in the lives of those around them. It becomes literally impossible to quiet ones mind without drugs and alcohol and thus, falling asleep is utterly impossible. Getting to the root of one’s restlessness is crucial for maintaining sobriety.

How to Cope with Insomnia

There are a number of exercises/activities one can practice to cope with insomnia.

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The whole idea of CBT is to understand how ones behavior (which stems from ones reactions to daily occurrences) directly impacts their poor sleeping habits. Like anything in life, to fix a problem, the problem first needs to be identified.
  2. Traditional Therapy: Poor sleep patterns typically stem from conditions such as depression and/or anxiety. As most of us know, depression and anxiety stem from using and getting off of drugs and alcohol. Thus, utilizing an addiction therapist to get to the root of one’s underlying conditions can be beneficial in also curing one’s insomnia and helping with recovery.
  3.  Meditation: My favorite mediation exercise is one I learned while sitting in on a therapy session at Hotel California By the Sea. The exercise asks that you imagine you are out in the middle of nowhere, perhaps camping in the mountains or sleeping on the beach. It doesn’t matter which location you chose so long as you are away from any bright lights. The exercise requires that you look up to a sky full of stars and one by one you turn each star off. By the time you are done, the entire sky should be pitch black. These kinds of exercises begin and end with By definition, mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Therefore, if you are able to be mindful, you will be able to turn off your brain and fall asleep. Of course, this skill takes time to master.
  4. Give Yourself a Break: Just like learning how to ride a bike for the first time, learning how to turn off your brain is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice. Before getting on that bike, you must accept that you will fall multiples times and you will fail but with time, you will get better at it. In fact, before you know it, you’ll be great at riding your bike but only if you give yourself time to learn properly. Being patient is extremely hard for alcoholics and addicts who want instant gratification in everything they do. After all, that is why they started using drugs and alcohol in the first place. Drugs and alcohol became the quickest fix to any problem they encountered. Drugs and alcohol made their pain go away and their confidence go up but only for a short amount of time. Drugs and alcohol were not sustainable fixes; they did not offer sustainable solutions.This “quick fix” mentality alcoholics and addicts have become accustomed to must be replaced with patience, patience and more patience. Just like learning how to ride a bike or learning how to read, alcoholics and addicts must accept that it will take time to learn how to turn down the noise in their brains so that they can fall asleep at night but the time will come.

More Tips to Deal with Insomnia

  1. Try your best to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day
  2. Create a nightly and morning routine that you are able to stick to day to day
  3. Eliminate caffeine after 3PM
  4. Swap your nightly caffeinated tea or coffee with a decaffeinated cup of tea or coffee
  5. No nicotine!
  6. Exercise daily (try to create a work out routine that you can realistically stick to)
  7. Turn off electronics one hour prior to going to bed (TV, phone, laptop, etc.)
  8. Turn off anything that reflects any type of light
  9. Try meditating 30 minutes before going to bed
  10. Download an app that tracks your sleep patterns (my favorite is Sleep Cycle)