Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seven Days Sober: Get Your Zzz's Please!

The Importance of Sleep in Early Recovery

Don’t you just hate it when you go to bed after a long day, only to toss and turn for an hour before you finally fall asleep?  Are you one of those people who keep waking up throughout the night and looking at the clock to find it’s been an hour or less since you last woke?  Have you been tempted to have a few drinks before bed, because it always helped you sleep before?  You aren’t alone.

Research has shown that a large number of people suffer insomnia during early sobriety, and that disrupted sleep can increase the chance of early relapse.   This difficulty sleeping can last for weeks after you take your last drink.  While it is frustrating, not to mention tiring, to spend the night wishing you could sleep, there are things you can do to help ease you into dreamland.

The first, and most important thing, is DO NOT DRINK.  Not only would you be endangering your future sobriety, but in the dependent individual, alcohol does not significantly improve the length or quality of sleep.  Insomnia is part of alcohol withdrawal, so learning to deal with it without drinking is an important step in your recovery.  Here are a few ideas to help you beat your insomnia without relapsing.

Your Bedroom is for Sleeping – Create a relaxing environment in your bedroom.  Having a TV or computer in your room sends the subconscious message that the room is for activity, not rest.  The exception, naturally, is intimate activity.  Avoid taking work to bed.  If you can’t avoid having a computer in your room, try to position it so that any lights are not directly across from you and make it a habit to turn off the monitors or shut it down an hour or more before bedtime.

Avoid Stimulants in the Evening – Caffeine, cigarettes, and even sweets can rev your system up, making sleep an elusive creature.  Try not to eat too close to bedtime, and choose relaxing beverages such as caffeine-free herbal teas or warm milk in place of a last cup of coffee.

Dim the Lights – Dimming the lights in your house 2-3 hours before bedtime signals your body to start producing melatonin (see further down for information on this hormone), which in turn makes you sleepy.

Meditation – Meditating or doing breathing exercises for fifteen minutes before bedtime can help calm your mind, reducing the stress you take with you to bed.  If you journal at night, do so before you meditate, and try to release any negative energy you may have stirred up with your writing.  A major factor in insomnia is the inability to “shut down” our minds.  Taking the time to relax and focus on the present before bed will help to put your body into sleep mode.

Hide Your Clock – Anyone who has had trouble sleeping knows what it’s like to wake up repeatedly to stare at the time.  Turn your clock so that you can’t see the numbers.  Watching the clock creates other mental activity which can keep you awake.

Don’t “Try” to Sleep – Believe it or not, attempting to will yourself to sleep can actually keep you awake.  If you are guilty of this, try listening to relaxing music or a recorded meditation while in bed.  If you don’t fall asleep within 10-15 minutes, get back up and go into another room (you want to associate your bedroom with falling asleep quickly!).  Read a book or meditate.  The same with waking in the middle of the night; if you don’t fall right back to sleep, get up and do something quiet for a few minutes.  Do not eat, smoke or exercise and don’t fall asleep on the couch.

Set Your Alarm – Wake up at the same time every day, regardless of the amount of sleep you have had.  This helps train your body to recognize a regular sleep-wake cycle.  Don’t nap during the day.  Try to go to bed at the same time as well, though you may be getting up frequently at first.  Again, training your body to get sleepy at a certain time will help you fall asleep.

A Word About Melatonin – Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland.  It is called the “Dracula of Hormones,”  because it will not be produced in bright light, including bright house lights.  Melatonin supplements are available, and may be used to assist in sleep.  There is no hard evidence that supplements will increase sleep, but it is not harmful.

These suggestions should help you overcome your insomnia without relapse.  If you still have trouble sleeping after 4-6 weeks of sobriety, you should check with your doctor about other treatments.  Remember, I am responsible for myself and for my actions.  Take control of your sleep and learn to rest easily.

No comments:

Post a Comment