The relationship between sleep and drug addiction for recovering addicts is a very complex one. There are many common mental illnesses that cause the lack of sleep such as PTSD, depression, ADHD, and patients often require certain drugs to enable them to get some sleep; however, some of these drugs may be addictive when misused. In a different light, insomnia or sleep disruption may occur due to the abuse of prescription drugs.
Research has found that certain controlled substances may disrupt the sleep regulatory system and coordination in the central nervous system, this directly affects the time that it would normally take to fall asleep. Lack of sleep can lead to disorientation and the inability to learn the self-regulating skills required for a full recovery.
A person, who uses drugs and alcohol, on a larger scale, is more likely to have a distorted sleep pattern than an individual who uses neither of the substances. This clearly shows that there is a relationship that binds the nerves and chemical responses to sleep. What is the probable link between sleep disorder and drug use?
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Relationship Between Drug use and Sleep
Neurological mechanisms and drug pathways are becoming increasingly understandable and it is easier to predict the probable causes of a sleep disorder in individuals that abuse drugs. The brain produces many different chemicals that have regulatory functions, many of which are responsible for our state f mind, mental health, cognitive abilities, and normal body functions.
When a person uses drugs, these substances cause a disruption in the production of chemicals in the brain. This is usually the cost in order to feel “pleasure”. When these chemicals are disrupted of production is altered, one may find themselves with physical and mental changes that are far from the norm.
The general body functions change with time or even spontaneously, birthing completely new characteristics that can be very uncomfortable. There is a reason why the body operates at certain levels when it comes to the regulation of chemicals in the brain. Anything different from the regular might be problematic. Let’s take a look at chemical functions.
Neurochemical Mechanism and Sleep Disorder
One of the most important chemicals studied in order to understand the relationship between drug use and sleep disorder is dopamine. Dopamine is an essential neurochemical that functions as a neurotransmitter. The neurochemical plays a role in reward-motivated behaviors, thinking, planning, motor control, and others. A dysfunction in dopamine production can lead to a lot of health problems.
When a person uses drugs it stimulates the dopamine reward pathway to reenact the feeling of euphoria. Dopamine on its own modulates mental alertness and is used as a remedy for narcolepsy. Drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and other increase dopamine levels in the brain, and continuous use can lead to major sleep deprivation. Most of these drugs may be addictive on first or second use, causing the individual to seek means to secure and use the drugs over and over again. The ripple effect is that sleep deprivation down-regulates the presence of dopamine receptors, this will make people even more vulnerable to using drugs.
Drug use, asides from dopamine, also affects the regulation of the body’s normal sleep-wake cycle through their pharmacological targets. For example, people who are addicted to cannabis lose a lot of sleep when trying to quit the substance. About 40 percent of individuals trying to quit marijuana have reported the inability to sleep, this is often the most distressing problem of quitting marijuana, and other symptoms such as nightmares have also been reported. About 1 in every 10 previous marijuana addicts relapse due to the inability to sleep.
Opioids are also culprits of lack of sleep, even though they are known to cause sleepiness; they may disrupt the sleep process through a transitioning stage. Users may end up with terrible insomnia. The dangers of opioids are not limited to sleep deprivation alone, they also have the ability to control respiration, and when used in very high doses it may inhibit breathing, causing the individual to stop breathing even while sleeping.
The relationship between impaired sleep and drug use can further be escalated when people suffering from insomnia decide to self-medicate, use alcohol, and benzodiazepines or even stimulants to reduce day-time fatigue caused by lack of sleep. These may lead to impaired cognition and also increase the severity of sleep disorder.
Do Recovering Addicts Sleep a Lot?
Since the presence of these neurochemicals in the brain largely contribute to the lack of sleep in drug users, those who are in the state of recovery still have a similar amount of these neurochemicals, and sleep deprivation is very possible. The lack of sleep may last for a period of time while the brain undergoes restructuring- trying to regulate itself. It is normal to assume that once the chemical has been broken down, sleep may return to its regular state, this may not happen for everyone.
Recovering addicts who seek substance abuse treatment may begin to get back their normal sleep patterns with intensive care, healthy diets, exercise, and others, however; proper sleep in itself is a requisite for a successful recovery from drug abuse.
Some alcoholics, after detox, may experience a few weeks of insomnia. The problem with this situation is that alcoholics with difficulty sleeping are likely to find themselves using alcohol again. Lack of sleep for a recovering addict can lead to relapse. How can a recovering addict deal with insomnia? Is there any remedy that enables a recovering addict to get more sleep?
Ways to Deal with Insomnia in Recovery
Recovery from substance addiction is usually a long-term deal and there are so many challenges along the way. For long-term drug and alcohol users, the withdrawal effects may be more pronounced than for others. For recovering addicts sleep is a vital part of the healing process, to enable the brain to regulate itself. However, the individual in question must find a way to get adequate sleep in order to heal better.
The question is, what are the things that can be done to promote healthy sleep. There are a few techniques that recovering addicts can practice in order to get better sleep. These include:
- Exercising regularly, with the exception of exercises before bedtime
- Taking the time to create a workable sleep schedule on weekdays and weekends
- Do away with any electronic, light source, or anything that produces sound in order to focus better on sleep
- Eat light at night; avoid large meals as they may cause a delay in digestion and sleep
- Find some kind of a bedtime ritual that helps you to relax and soothes your nerves. These could be meditation, a warm bath, reading a book, yoga, and others
- Opt in to a CBT program: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very useful in exploring emotions and helps you learn and develop useful relaxation techniques for better and longer sleep.
It is a known fact that substance abuse goes hand in hand with sleep deprivation. The best way to heal faster is to get quality sleep as often as possible. Some recovering addicts may find it difficult to get quality sleep even during their sobriety. It is very important to see a medical professional to discuss the nature of the addiction and what techniques can be tailored specifically to the patient.