Can’t sleep? Odds are, you’re not alone. Sleeping problems are very common in the early days, weeks and even months of recovery due to the post-acute withdrawal process. Your body must reestablish regular sleep cycles in the absence of alcohol and drugs. Most of these problems usually resolve themselves without medical treatment, but here are 12 tips help the process along.

12 Sleeping Tips For Early Recovery

  1. Create a good sleeping environment, e.g., bed comfort, quietness, darkness, comfortable temperature, and ventilation.
  2. Consider a white noise generator if there is a problem with noise in the environment.
  3. Set a consistent time period for going to bed and getting up, including weekends.
  4. Avoid daytime naps.
  5. Eliminate or reduce caffeine intake (particularly after 3 pm).
  6. Get exercise early in the day, but avoid exercise in the evening.
  7. Keep a journal by your bed, noting patterns, troublesome thoughts, dreams, etc. Discuss troublesome dreams with your counselor, sponsor or others in recovery.
  8. Learn and utilized relaxation techniques, e.g., progressive relaxation, visualization, breathing exercises; use recovery prayers and self-talk (slogans) to help you fall asleep.
  9. Minimize activities other than sleeping in your bed, e.g., eating, working, watching television, reading, etc.
  10. Avoid large, late meals. Instead, have a light snack before bedtime. A small turkey sandwich, warm milk, a banana, a cup of hot chamomile tea often cause drowsiness.
  11. Create a consistent bedtime routine and stick with it.
  12. If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing in low light until you feel sleepy.

Your sleep requirements may change in the transition from addiction to recovery; this adjustment period may take several weeks/months to re-stabilize. Avoid self-medication with prescribed and over-the-counter sleep aids unless this is supervised by a physician trained in addiction medicine.

It’s also important to note that dreams and nightmares involving scenes of alcohol and/or drug intoxication are common in early recovery. When possible, have your addiction professionals monitor your sleep issues during this time. These patterns can indicate an early recovery adjustment or offer clues to vulnerability for relapse.

If Sleep Problems Persist

Talk to your doctor about any of the following problems since you stopped your alcohol and drug use:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Awakening and having difficulty getting back to sleep
  • Poor sleep environment
  • Racing thoughts that disrupt ability to sleep
  • Lack of feeling refreshed after sleep
  • Tiredness and drowsiness during the day
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Excessive hours of sleeping

Content originally published by William White. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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William White

William L. White is an Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute and past-chair of the board of Recovery Communities United. Bill has a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies and has worked full time in the addictions field since 1969 as a streetworker, counselor, clinical director, researcher and well-traveled trainer and consultant. He has authored or co-authored more than 400 articles, monographs, research reports and book chapters and 20 books. His book, Slaying the Dragon – The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, received the McGovern Family Foundation Award for the best book on addiction recovery. Bill was featured in the Bill Moyers’ PBS special “Close To Home: Addiction in America” and Showtime’s documentary “Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century.” Bill’s sustained contributions to the field have been acknowledged by awards from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NAADAC: The Association of Addiction Professionals, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Native American Wellbriety Movement. Bill’s widely read papers on recovery advocacy have been published by the Johnson Institute in a book entitled Let’s Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement.

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