When people first become sober, they often find that one thing they haven’t had to face in a long time, is routine. Waking up, eating, exercising, taking part in stress busting activities such as meditation or yoga, showering and sleeping at the same time everyday—this all may seem to lack importance, but routine is actually a key element of recovery both at rehabilitation centers and at home. Routines give a person structure and stability (which is ideal at a time of such immense change). They make all our daily obligations seem more manageable, and keep us busy (thus reducing the chances of boredom, which can be a trigger for relapse). However, arguably the most important benefit that routine can bring during recovery, is an ability to promote better quality sleep.
What is the Relationship Between Lack of Sleep and Relapse?
Many studies have been carried out on the inexorable link between poor sleep and addiction. One study published by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology found that simply staying up late and waking up early (so-called ‘social jetlag’) can pose serious physical and mental health risks. In youth, for instance, even short-term sleep restriction can raise the risk of depression and addiction. In essence, sleep deprivation, working and sleeping irregular hours, and having poor sleep quality can all contribute to tiredness, memory and concentration problems, anxiety, and depression—the last two of which can be particularly strong triggers for relapse.
Sleep and the Reward System
Researchers believe that the reason why sleep deprivation can increase the risk of depression, is that it interferes with the brain’s reward system. Two recent studies by scientists at Duke University, however, have found that poor quality can also lead adults to make risky decisions, by increasing the brain’s sensitivity to positive rewards. “Even if someone makes very sound…decisions after a normal night of sleep, there is no guarantee that this same person will not expose you to untoward risk if sleep deprived,” noted their report. Interestingly, the study focused on gambling—another source of addiction—which can be more difficult to resist when one is sleep-deprived.
Routine Is Key During Recovery
There are many recommendations for those wishing to sleep better during recovery, the most important of which is pursuing optimal sleep hygiene. The latter is a wide concept, which includes everything from creating a comfortable, peaceful sleeping environment, to going to bed at the same time every night, and avoiding foods and the use of gadgets in the afternoon/evening. The more unstructured one’s day is, the more likely one is to feel out of control, and tempted to indulge in unhealthy behaviors that may impede recovery.
Treatment for Insomnia in the Early Stages of Recovery
A report published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that insomnia is a ‘prevalent and persistent’ problem for patients in the early stages of addiction. The researchers recommend treating sleep disturbance in order to increase the chances of continued sobriety and improve one’s quality of life. It is important for those in recovery to understand that they have a five times higher chance of battling insomnia during recovery than the general population, and that this issue may continue for months or years. Instead of medication (which can potentially be abused or misused), the researchers recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can include keeping a sleep diary and the adoption of better sleep hygiene.
Those in recovery should be aware of the importance sleep has in their road to recovery. The adoption of sound sleep practises, behavioral therapy, and following a routine can help them have the energy and zeal they need. Recovery is a challenging time in life; one in which anxiety and depression can be more prevalent. Therefore, taking proactive steps to rest and reduce stress are key.