How are sleep deprivation and addiction connected with each other?

By Dr. Sonia Parikh, MD

People, especially students and teenagers, are the biggest victims of addiction throughout the world. It not only creates health issues but also triggers mental illness. For this reason, the victim loses his or her normal life.

Addiction refers not only to the consumption of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or marijuana, but alcohol, prescribed drugs, and over-the-counter drug addictions, as well.

If you, or any of your family members, are victims of any addiction, you’ve likely experienced the harmful impact of substance abuse on the body’s natural sleeping patterns. The active addiction period and the recovery process can both impact sleeping behaviors, as the victim can show unnatural patterns of sleep through the night.

Just as using drugs can create sleep problems, severe sleep issues may also push people towards drug abuse. Either way, sleep loss and insomnia can lead to significant harmful effects on an addict’s physical and mental well-being, even if they are going through recovery.

How different addictions can affect your sleep

Addiction is defined as: “a brain disease brought on by chronic drug use that interferes with and makes changes to brain circuitry and chemistry, and these changes lead to compulsive drug-using behaviors.

Unfortunately, these severe brain chemistry and circuitry changes make the victim impulsive and lead to increased drug use. This can severely disrupt sleeping. Taking drugs in high dosage can trigger acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) sleep issues. Multiple addictions or substance abuse can trigger various sleep disorders, such as daytime sleepiness, insomnia, parasomnia, and even sleep apnea. Many substance abuse victims turn to substances such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, and many others. These can all disrupt sleep by creating disturbances in several neurotransmitter systems, including acetylcholine, orexin, dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

How sleep disturbance triggers drug abuse

We know that drug abuse can trigger sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation can cause severe drug abuse. Let’s understand how it works:

Consumption of drugs for a good night’s sleep

People who suffer from sleep disorders, like insomnia, may sometimes consume drugs or alcohol to help them get a good night’s sleep. But in the long run, using drugs and alcohol may reduce sleep quality. It can lead the patient to substance abuse and severe addiction. Apart from that, using prescribed and over-the-counter drugs can lead to addiction and substance abuse.

Reduction of self-control due to lack of sleep

Some people can’t sleep properly without drinking a cup of tea or coffee before bed, even though tea and coffee are usually used to wake you up. But they are using the stimulants as a remedy for sleep.

People using drugs to sleep well also follow this same psychology. When people don’t get enough sleep, they experience a loss of willpower and self-control in their daily lives. In an attempt to regain that self-power and stability, they start using drugs.

Insomnia in addiction recovery

People believe that while going through therapy and treatment for substance use disorder (SUD), other issues caused by the addiction will also be cured.

However, people undergoing addiction recovery often experience a few new issues different from the existing ones. Insomnia is one of the common issues to arise during addiction recovery.

During an active addiction period, patients who drink alcohol or take drugs may get away from the sleep issues before addiction. During recovery, patients are separated from the drugs or alcohol and their body and brain starts to re-establish themselves to their old state. The physical and mental functions, which were closed due to severe drug use, start working once more. Functions such as hunger, thirst, urination, and vomiting, will begin again. Along with these activities, sleep sickness or insomnia are also triggered. Those patients can’t sleep without using drugs or alcohol.

According to the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 72% of patients with alcohol-use disorder also suffer from sleeping issues. The problem still persists long after they get separated from drugs or alcohol.

Few side effects of sleep deprivation due to addiction

According to SAMHSA, sleep deprivation during active addiction and recovery may show symptoms apart from insomnia, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep during addiction recovery

Recovering from addiction requires enough time to detox, which means the patient must stop taking drugs and alcohol completely. It is also important to get enough sleep so your body and mind can recover. But if you are still having sleep issues and struggling with insomnia, these tips can help you avoid addictive medications.

  • Meditation – Meditation will help you calm your mind, release tension, reduce stress, and improve sleep every day.
  • Reduction of light exposure – Our mind is sensitive to light, especially bright lights from TV screens, cell phones, computers, or LED lights. So, turn off your TV, phone, and computer before hitting the bed. Switch off the lights 30 mins before bedtime, as well. It will help to create the right mood for sleeping.
  • Daily exercise – Working out will help your body to detoxify and release stress. Once you get tired, it will also help you fall asleep quickly.
  • Maintaining a healthy sex life – A healthy sex life can help you get better sleep. After having an orgasm, your body will release hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin to boost pleasant and relaxing feelings. Sexual intimacy also reduces levels of the hormone cortisol, which reduces stress.
  • Shower before sleep – Having a shower can help your body with temperature control and calm your mind. Take a bath 1-1.5 hours before bed and avoid doing heavy tasks.
  • Enjoy nature – Immerse yourself in nature as much as possible. Try taking morning walks and take in as much fresh air and sunlight as possible.

Author’s bio: Dr. Sonia Parikh, MD is an adult psychiatrist and cofounder of Savant Care, Inc. She is a TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) practitioner and is accepting new patients for TMS. She has expertise in the treatment of depression, anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia disorders, and adult ADHD.