Improving Sleep Patterns During Recovery

Does your teen have a habit of staying up at night? Are they losing sleep to distractions like social media or computer games? Are you suffering from sleep deprivation? Do you worry that a loved one’s substance use contributes to their lack of sleep? Although we all know that our bodies need enough sleep to stay healthy, more and more people (especially young adults) are skipping hours of sleep these days. 

For those who struggle with substance abuse, sleep deprivation and addiction can form a vicious cycle — they increase the likelihood of each other’s occurrence, locking individuals into dependence on both. Scientists have found that sleep disturbance has been a universal risk factor for relapse among recovering individuals.

The Vicious Cycle of Sleep Deprivation and Addiction

Among young people, sleep deprivation can be intentional. A young adult might underestimate the harm of sleep deprivation, thinking that their young body can handle it. Today’s cultural norms of overworking also affect young professionals in similar ways. Overworking and staying up at night have become a disturbing new trend. Some even name sleep deprivation as one kind of addiction. The truth is, our body needs to live according to a healthy, natural rhythm. We need to not interfere with the forces of nature but go along with them. Intentional sleep deprivation is an unhealthy habit that goes against the body’s natural rhythm.

For some young people, not sleeping at night can make them feel high. They enjoy a time of alertness at night while everyone else is sleeping. But when lack of sleep during the night becomes a pattern, one inevitably feels sleep-deprived during the day. Sleep deprivation then brings a kind of emotional flatness in the daytime. Over time, one can develop insomnia. Some people choose to self-medicate in order to fall asleep. But the kind of sleep they get from alcohol use is usually not ideal. Their overall quality of sleep is compromised. Stress from the body then builds up into anxiety, which increases the risk for more substance use.

Sleep should be a natural process, but addiction can make natural sleep patterns go away. Although many drugs appear to help you stay alert, they make it difficult for your body to rest naturally. The physiological stress then feeds into your emotions and behaviors, changing your lifestyle into an unhealthy mode. 

What Sleep Does to Our Health

Sleep is when the brain processes the day’s stimulation, and the body heals from the day’s stress. Other organs also start restoring chemical balances. Getting enough hours of sleep is critical for human memory, which happens in the brain’s reward center. When the brain functions properly with enough rest, it will ensure normal cognition, decision-making, and attention. When a person is sleep-deprived, the brain not only fails to achieve this natural process but may release chemicals that interfere with memory formation, problem-solving, and attention. 

When there is not enough sleep, other human organs can also suffer from a lack of recuperation. Take the liver, for example; scientists have long found that chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to fatty liver. Long-term sleep deprivation may also lead to the following health issues: weakened immune system, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. Healthy and good sleep patterns are therefore instrumental to recovering from these diseases.

From a mental health point of view, sleep deprivation will impair the areas of attention and decision-making. When a person is chronically sleep-deprived, this impacts the brain’s dopamine receptor sensitivity in the basal ganglia. The brain’s reward center can become hypersensitized when this person is not sleeping, but this mistimed reward sensitivity can impair their decision-making during normal hours (usually daytime). Long-term behavioral consequences of sleep deprivation also include compulsion and risk-taking. These can trigger relapse for people who are in early recovery.

Restoring Healthy Sleep Patterns  

Medical experts agree that the natural sleep cycle should fall between 11 pm and 8 am each day. Keeping to a distraction-free sleep schedule during these hours is essential for adolescents' and young adults' physical, mental, and emotional development. Parents should promote a healthy sleep regimen. They should also model a good sleep habit, which can integrate the following strategies:

  • Make late afternoon to evening activities within a manageable range. This helps gradually de-stress and calm your body down to rest.
  • Set a family curfew time (like 10:30 pm), after which nobody should watch TV or use smartphones. Screen time before bed often contributes to insomnia.
  • Have a relaxation routine and a calming space for sleep. Make sure that your bed space is devoid of light, sound, and other distractions.

The most important thing is to build up your motivation for achieving a good sleep, one night at a time. Treat it as important as the clean air you breathe and the healthy diet you eat. For people who have chronic insomnia, it is also essential to seek professional help before its symptoms hinder your recovery from substance use.

Are you or a loved one battling a sleep disorder? We understand how to help you. Sleep quality can have a significant impact on your overall health. Lack of sleep may trigger substance use. Sleep deprivation and addiction can also become a mutually reinforcing cycle, but there is a way to break free. You do not have to do this alone; you can find a reliable recovery coach to walk alongside you. Our interventionists know how to help. At South Florida Intervention, we believe that education and coaching are integral to effective treatment towards the goal of recovery. Over the years, we have helped thousands of people succeed. Our interventionists are compassionate, professional, and trustworthy guides. They will spend time to know your needs and match you with tailor-made treatment plans. They offer recovering coaching and case management for your specific needs, and their strategies also include sober escort and parent coaching. Call us at (202) 390-2273