Sleep Problems Caused by Addiction and Recovery

If you consume and abuse addictive substances for an extended period, it will change your sleep architecture and disrupt your sleep quality.

Addiction may have devastating effects on a person’s life. Anybody that went through addiction or has seen it on a loved one can confirm this. It disrupts all parts of your life, including sleep. People with addiction are 5 to 10 times more likely to have sleep disorders and various sleep problems.

Many people that have consumed alcohol or drugs as a way to help them sleep or fight insomnia have developed an addiction. Even if the person didn’t have sleep problems before becoming addicted, consuming and abusing these substances for an extended period of time will change your sleep architecture and disrupt your sleep quality. When people rely on drugs and alcohol to go through the day, soon they will not be able to function or fall asleep without it. Unfortunately, things only get worse with recovery, as sleep problems are one of the long-lasting consequences of detox. However, there is some hope because addiction is treatable, and with better sleep, the risk of relapse is lower.


Addictions Interfering with Sleep

Addictions that interfere with sleep include:


Alcohol is considered a depressant, but people mistakenly believe that it’s a good sleep aid. Individuals who drink alcohol before sleep have a higher chance of bedwetting, snoring, sleep apnea, and nightmares. Alcohol causes you to spend less time in REM sleep, which is the sleep stage in which we dream, process everything that we learned during the day, and consolidate our memories. Without this sleep stage, our mental and cognitive performances, as well as our productivity deteriorates. Alcohol users can experience daytime sleepiness, awakening during the night, abnormal sleep quality and insomnia. Insomnia is the most prevalent issue that alcoholics have after they quit drinking.

It can also affect your core body temperature, which also helps to regulate sleep. Your body temperature decreases during the night which causes you to feel drowsy while your brain releases melatonin. When you wake up in the morning, the temperature of your body rises to make you feel awake and alert during the day.


Similar to alcohol, marijuana is also a substance used to help people fall asleep. The dependence of marijuana is the same as any other substance abuse disorder. Even though it doesn’t cause early waking, it still interferes with sleep, and decreases the amount of REM sleep a person gets.

Cocaine, hallucinogens, amphetamines, and MDMA

Cocaine, hallucinogens, amphetamines, and MDMA are stimulants that act as energizing drugs that easily interfere with sleep. By consuming these, people get addicted to the high levels of energy they get when the dopamine floods their brain. While the energy levels are high, they will have a lot of troubles insomnia.

Cocaine has a significant impact on the limbic system of the brain, known for regulating motivation and pleasure. The short-term effects have an immediate impact on the buildup of dopamine that increases euphoria, which is the reason for repeated consumption. Cocaine also increases wakefulness and disrupts REM sleep, so withdrawal can also result in interrupted sleep and bad dreams.

Even a low dose of cocaine can affect your REM sleep, the same way a small amount of alcohol can. And chronic use of ecstasy or cocaine can reduce REM sleep, cause sleep deprivation and impact cognitive performance during the day.

MDMA impacts the brain and sleep by gradually taking away the serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin has a significant part in the process of melatonin production, and ecstasy users show symptoms of sleep deprivation much sooner than those who consume other types of drugs. These individuals also have many problems with the cognitive performance of the brain.

Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system, and they can even be used to treat certain medical issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or even depression. But people can develop a psychological amphetamine dependence. And amphetamine consumption can increase the time spent in REM sleep.

Hallucinogen is a term used for a group of drugs that can affect and ultimately alter one’s perception resulting in seeing images and feeling sensations that are not real. Similar to MDMA, hallucinogens interfere with serotonin levels of the brain. Because of that, sleep and other major bodily functions are affected by hallucinogens, causing many sleep problems, and increasing the risk of developing many sleep disorders.


Our bodies cannot handle intense levels of pain on our own, so opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone are available to help us. The drugs help people that have severe or chronic pain (from cancer, surgery, or other health procedures and issues). Opioids attach themselves to the dopamine receptors located in your brain, and they allow your brain to handle pain better. But, when abused or not used properly, they create a similar euphoric effect that cocaine has. The same as other addictions, opioid abusers spend less time in REM sleep. The REM and deep sleep are split in half. During these sleep stages, your body repairs and restores the muscles and body tissue.

Sleep medication

Similar to opioids, prescription sleep medications are easy to get addicted to. They are a legal form of medication people use, so they seem safe, even though it is not completely true. Most of these drugs were not made for long-term use, and people develop addictions quick after increased consumption. The more they take, the more likely they are going to have sleep troubles.

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions such as gambling don’t create devastating physical effects like drugs do, but they can interfere with sleep by worsening one’s mental and emotional health. Gamblers with addictions have an increased risk for mood disorders and anxiety that often cause insomnia and sleep disorders. And the worse the sleep, the worse the addiction.


Addiction-Related Sleep Disorders

Apart from the devastating effects on sleep, many addictions are linked to certain sleep disorders. Many people use alcohol, drugs, and other substances as help for their sleep problems, but they do not realize that these substances exacerbate existing sleep problems and often create new ones. Sleep problems caused by addiction are called substance-induced sleep disorders.

Chronic insomnia is a very common symptom of both addiction and recovery for all kinds of substance abuse. Hypersomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness often coexists with insomnia.

Parasomnias is the term used for abnormal sleep behaviors. Among these sleep behaviors are sleepwalking and night terrors. People prone to hallucinogen and marijuana abuse frequently experience parasomnias, especially nightmares.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing for a short period of time. Depending on the type, it can be caused by a relaxation of the throat muscles or by a miscommunication of certain centers in the brain. Both of these causes can happen as a result of alcohol and opioid abuse. Over half of the people that have some form of substance abuse and addiction experience sleep apnea.

Restless legs syndrome happens when people have an uncomfortable sensation in their lower limbs that causes them to move it in order to get relief. The most common cases of it happening is when the individual is lying down. The person has a constant need to move the legs to relieve the sensation. This situation makes it difficult to fall asleep. Restless legs syndrome affects a third of addicts and is most common in opioid addicts.

Each of these issues contributes to sleep deprivation that increases the need for substance consumption. Among the symptoms of sleep deprivation are poor decision-making, difficulty focusing and memorizing, minimized reaction time, emotional volatility. Your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes also increases.


Sleep Problems During Addiction Recovery

The early stages of detox are difficult for all types of addiction. In the first few days or weeks, people experience uncomfortable physical symptoms like headaches, fevers, vomiting, and tremors. Along with that, they experience emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, irritability, and poor mood.

The symptoms are individual, depending on the person, and the severity of the addiction. People that have withdrawal from sleep medication can have seizures, while alcoholics can have delirium tremens (DTs) – a group of symptoms that involve an increased heart rate, hallucinations, and heavy sweating. Because there are no general symptoms, it is essential to seek medical aid and guidance for recovery. People with opioid and sleep medication addictions need to go slower with their dosage to decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms and the risk of relapse. After the initial period, the physical symptoms will decrease and disappear. Any remaining symptoms will gradually diminish over time.

Insomnia during detox

Insomnia is difficult to handle even when you are not in detox, let alone mixed with other withdrawal symptoms. It is so challenging that people turn to relapse, as they used sedative drugs and alcohol to treat it before recovery.

Many of the drugs we already mentioned can interfere with your dopamine and serotonin production in the brain, which creates many problems. In the first few weeks of withdrawal, your brain needs to stabilize to the normal level, and physical pain and negative emotions are harder to handle. While all this is happening, you have poor and minimal amounts of sleep that happen because of detox-induced insomnia. The sleep deprivation you have reduces the pain tolerance and causes you to lash out and be irritable towards others quickly.

From everything listed, you can assume that insomnia is the biggest reason for relapsing. The risk is even higher for those who have a sleep disorder. It is vital to treat insomnia to improve sleep quality and reduce the symptoms of withdrawal.


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