Finding The Right Sleep Aids In Addiction Recovery
There is no doubt that sleep disturbances are incredibly common for those in addiction recovery. Unfortunately, sleep issues can cause relapse if not addressed and treated properly.
Although prescription sleep aids are often suggested as a line of treatment, there are many other strategies and supplements that can be tried first.
The unfortunate reality is that the addictive nature of prescription sleeping pills can add a complex layer to someone in recovery from addiction. Because of this, it is so important to try to find natural and healthy alternatives first.
Although sleeping tablets can be an attractive option, studies show that they don't actually make much of a difference when it comes to sleep quality and sleep duration. On average, taking sleeping pills only actually increases the amount of sleep by 11 minutes. Furthermore, they only decrease the time it takes to fall asleep by an average of 13 minutes.
In order to overcome a sleep disorder it is important to find and treat the root causes of a to obtain lasting relief. Sleep problems are often a symptom of emotional, mental, physical, or environmental issues. These issues can be discussed with a counsellor, therapist, or doctor.
There are many ways to help improve sleep quality that don't involve potentially addictive medications. These healthy alternatives to sleeping pills can be used long-term and are non-addictive.
Natural and Healthy Alternative Sleep Aids to Help with Rest
Before reaching for over-the-counter sleep aids or prescription medications to help with sleep, be sure to first try some natural alternatives. These options can provide long-term benefits and long-term improvement to sleep. This is much more preferable to the temporary solution that prescription drugs provide.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, has been used successfully to treat insomnia. It’s proven effective for those without substance use disorders as well as those in recovery from addiction. CBT can be used to treat the underlying causes of anxiety and stress. These conditions can contribute to sleep disturbances or insomnia. CBT is a wonderful option because it can be used on an ongoing basis. It treats the root cause of sleep problems rather than acting as a band aid.
Relaxation therapy, or RT, has been used to help people who struggle with cognitive or physiological arousal, which in turn causes them to have difficulty falling asleep. RT is practised with the help of a trained therapist and involves techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and visualisation. Relaxation therapy has been shown to be most effective when used alongside other treatment modalities, such as CBT.
There are many naturopathic treatments that have been shown to help improve sleep in patients. Some forms of naturopathy that have resulted in better sleep for patients are aromatherapy with lavender oil, and acupuncture. Consuming foods that are high in fibre such as vegetables, beans, and fruit has also been shown to help with sleep. Passionflower and ashwagandha are also often used to assist restful sleep.
Meditation is a great way to relax the mind and the body. It has been shown to improve insomnia. Meditation also assist with better sleep quality in those who don’t have sleep problems. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation in particular has been able to relieve chronic insomnia. Some of the meditations that help with sleep are guided imagery meditations, body scan meditations, and deep breathing. However, any meditation that you enjoy will be an asset to your nighttime routine. The practice of meditation facilitates a relaxation response in the body that can help you fall asleep.
You can access many different types of meditation, including ones to assist with sleep, through accessing our Recoverlution wellness hub.
Exercising during the day can help improve sleep at night. Research shows exercising helps us to fall asleep faster, and leads to improved sleep quality. Getting as little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise in a day can result in improved sleep quality. The caveat to this is that exercising too late at night can have the opposite effect and make it more difficult to get sleep. Exercise releases endorphins and raises your internal body temperature. For this reason, try to get your workout in relatively earlier in the day.
Building a Nest
Building a nest means creating a healthy and peaceful sleeping environment. Environment plays a big role in our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, and can be improved with simple changes. Some factors that contribute to a helpful sleep environment are keeping the room dark, keeping the temperature cool, and eliminating sound or using white noise. Making changes to your environment is a simple way to create big changes to your sleep quality.
Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids
Many over-the-counter sleep aids can offer help during a difficult night as a short-term solution. However, they don’t offer long-term help when it comes to improving overall sleep. Using them for prolonged periods of time can actually have negative impact on your natural sleep cycle. Over-the-counter sleep aids aren’t meant to be used for longer than two weeks at most.
Many over the counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Antihistamines work by blocking specific chemicals in the brain. This elicits a drowsy feeling that prompts us to fall asleep. Unfortunately, tolerance to antihistamines builds relatively quickly, meaning that the longer you take them for, the less effective they will become.
Taking over-the-counter sleep aids can also lead into uncomfortable feelings the next day. You may suffer from side effects such as grogginess, brain fog, impaired judgment, and decreased alertness.
Below are some of the most common over the counter sleep aids:
Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine Succinate
Some of these sleep aids include Aleve PM, Benadryl, Unisom, Tylenol PM, and Zzzquil. These sleep aids contain antihistamines that prompt drowsiness. Be mindful if taking these, as they can also make you sleepy during daytime hours. Side effects include blurred vision, constipation, dry mouth and confusion. The potential side effects of these sleep aids are particularly of concern for older adults.
This is a naturally occurring hormone that is released in the body when it is time to go to sleep. Taking over-the-counter melatonin prompts this same response, helping the body to relax. Melatonin is generally one of the safer sleep aids to explore. Side effects of melatonin can include headaches.
Some research has indicated that valerian helps to illicit asleep by acting on specific receptors in the brain while slowing down the nervous system. This can help you to relax. Some studies have indicated that valerian is helpful in promoting sleep, while other studies say it doesn’t appear to make a significant difference. Valerian doesn’t appear to have side effects, although some people are allergic.
Over-the-counter sleep aids aren’t reported to have a strong addictive potential. Although quickly building a tolerance for them means people find themselves needing more of the medicine in order to gain the sought after effects.
Ultimately, lifestyle changes are what lead to long-term results when it comes to relieving sleep disturbances.
Why Can't I Sleep?
When using drugs and alcohol for an ongoing period of time, chemical changes occur within the body. When abstaining from drug and alcohol use, the body must readjust and learn how to function again without assistance. The chemical changes that take place in the brain during substance addiction also affect a persons ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
In addition to recovering from addiction, there are also many other factors that may be contributing to sleep disturbances. These contributing factors include:
Experiencing stress during the day can cause difficulty falling asleep at night. This can range from stressors triggered by work or relationships, to more severe conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Stress causes hyperarousal, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Unfortunately, the inability to fall asleep can act as a stressor in itself, which perpetuates a vicious cycle.
Mental Health Disorders
Another leading cause of sleep disturbances are mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In fact, approximately 40% of people with insomnia also struggle with a mental health disorder. When struggling with anxiety or depression, we may experience negative thoughts which create mental hyperarousal. Thus, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Research shows that insomnia can actually make symptoms of anxiety and depression worse.
Chronic Pain and Physical Ailments
Physical ailments and chronic pain can also make it difficult for the body to relax, and inhibit the ability to fall asleep. Physical discomfort can make it difficult for the body to relax. Add to this the fact that when there is no distraction the intensity of pain increases it is important to address both pain and sleeping environment.
Lifestyle conditions are another major contributor to sleep disturbances. Working late or playing video games late into the evening keeps the mind stimulated and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. If you are working an evening shift or have a rotating schedule, that makes it even more difficult for the circadian rhythm to regulate itself.
Taking naps during the day or sleeping in later in the morning can also make it more difficult to fall asleep. Doing other activities from your bed, like watching TV or working on your laptop can increase the likelihood of sleep disturbances. This is because the mental association between the bed and sleep becomes blurred.
Also, caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can make it difficult to fall asleep, so try to be mindful if you are consuming these during the day.
Alcohol is well known for causing sleep disturbances, even though many people think drinking alcohol will help them fall asleep, the opposite is actually true. Consuming alcohol at bedtime disrupts the REM cycle and can cause you to wake throughout the night. It can also cause you to wake earlier in the morning than we would like to.
Medication Side Effects
There are many medications that unfortunately cause sleep disturbances as a potential side effect. Some of these medications include antidepressants and blood pressure tablets. There are also some medications that cause sleep disturbances as part of the withdrawal process when they are no longer being taken. If you are struggling with sleep and feel that it may be related to the medication you are taking, please speak with your doctor.
The good news is that many of the leading causes of insomnia and sleep disturbances can be altered and healed by working on your external and internal world. Addressing the underlying causes of what’s truly keeping you up at night is the best way to harness real and lasting change.
When to See a Doctor for a Sleep Problem
Sleep is important to everyone, and especially to those in recovery. We want to be clear that we aren’t trying to disregard or alienate medical assistance when it is truly needed.
When seeing a doctor for a sleep issue, it is incredibly important to be transparent about current or previous addictions and to express concerns around avoiding medications that can be easily abused.
Prescription medications can work if you're completely honest with your doctor and can be appropriate in short-term instances such as acute postoperative pain, bereavement, etc. It is vital to maintain accountability and transparency when taking any medication that could potentially jeopardise your ongoing recovery.
Prescription medications should only be considered when healthier alternatives to these sleep aids have been exhausted.
Seeing a doctor for sleep disturbances is also important because doctors can rule out, or discover, medical reasons that may be causing your sleep troubles. They can then be treated accordingly. Medical conditions that can interfere with sleep include conditions such as thyroid problems, blood and electrolyte imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, and chronic pain.
A Final Note on Sleep Aids
Addressing the underlying causes of your sleep struggles through the appropriate channels will provide you with long-term relief. The key to resolving sleep disturbances in the long term is figuring out what works best for you as an individual. Often, what works best is a combination of different things.
Recoverlution offers a plethora of resources on healthy alternatives to help with sleep, from exercise and nutrition to meditation and yoga. We are here to help and support each person along their unique, individual recovery journey, and that means finding the best solutions that work just for you.
Author - Thurga
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