Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept at all? Poor sleep is a common problem for a variety of reasons ranging from sleep apnea to nightmares to partner (or pet) disturbances, and more.
Sleep Is Essential
Sleep issues are a problem because sleep is absolutely essential to our overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This is especially true for people in recovery—who, studies suggest, are up to five times more likely to suffer from insomnia. Getting enough rest plays a key role in helping you maintain your sobriety, so have a plan for getting good sleep consistently. Good sleep hygiene will help.
Sleep Hygiene? What’s That?
We are all familiar with the word “hygiene.” We know that we need good dental hygiene, and so we brush and floss our teeth (and avoid a lecture from the dental hygienist). We know that our personal hygiene involves keeping our bodies clean and healthy. But the term “sleep hygiene” might be less familiar. So what is it?
Sleep hygiene refers to intentional, consistent behaviors and environmental decisions that are designed to promote more restful sleep. You could think of it as the slumber equivalent of brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day.
Some Helpful Sleep Hygiene Tips
It may seem like there isn’t really anything you can do about your insomnia. You lie down and you either fall asleep or you don’t, right? Well, not really. Here are some things that can help you turn the nightmare of insomnia into the sweet dreams of slumber.
- Pay attention to your diet. “Wait!” you might be saying. “I thought we were talking about sleep.” And we are. Foods that are heavy, spicy, fatty, or fried might trigger heartburn, a common cause of sleep disruption. Finding a nutritious option for your evening snack—perhaps a complex carbohydrate with low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese—is an excellent idea.
- Cut down on caffeine. This might seem like it goes without saying, but often folks don’t connect their afternoon coffee break to their sleep struggles. But you don’t necessarily have to be consuming caffeine late in the evening for it to have an effect on your ability to sleep. If you need a morning jolt, have a cup of coffee or a mug of tea (lay off the sugary soda if you can). And then switch to decaf or herbal tea in the afternoon.
- Don’t fall into a nap trap. Many people would agree that a nice nap is one of the most pleasant experiences available, so we don’t want to begrudge you a little catnap now and then. But if you get in the habit of taking lengthy naps during the day, you will likely make your nighttime sleep struggles worse rather than better. It can be a vicious cycle—too little rest at night, too much during the day, and round and round. Our advice? Nap judiciously. Thirty minutes is probably a good target for your snooze.
- Don’t burn daylight on the weekends. Turning off the dreaded alarm clock and sleeping in on the weekends may rival napping for best sleep-related pleasure. But making a drastic change in your sleep schedule on the weekends can upend your efforts to achieve consistently restful sleep throughout the week. Sticking with a consistent bedtime and getting up around the same time each day (regardless of what day it is) can have long-term benefits.
- Stick to a nighttime routine. In addition to a consistent bedtime, having evening rituals can help get your mind and body ready for sleep. Your routine should involve as little screen time as possible because evidence suggests that looking at screens can undermine our ability to fall asleep. Instead, you might try mindfulness or meditation exercises, gentle stretching, a warm bath or shower, reading an enjoyable book, or reflecting on your day in a journal.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment. Lots of things about our physical environment can affect our sleep. Consider replacing a worn out mattress. Get more comfortable sheets and blankets. Make sure the room where you sleep is dark, quiet, and cool. Block out lights from the street. Consider earplugs, a white noise machine, or some soothing music to control what you hear while trying to rest. Limit clutter in your sleeping space, too.
- During the day, see the light. Light from the sun is essential for regulating our circadian rhythms, so during the daylight hours, make sure you spend some time in the sun. Outdoors is best, but keeping the blinds or curtains in your home or office open during the day can be helpful as well.
- Get up instead of tossing and turning. It might seem counterintuitive, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep after 20 or 30 minutes, it may be best to get out of bed for a bit. Keep the lights low and find a quiet activity—reading, working on a puzzle, journaling—to enjoy. When you start to feel drowsy, head back to your bed.
- Avoid the sleep aids. When you are in recovery, sleep aids—whether over-the-counter or prescription—can be a threat to your sobriety. Consider them a solution of last resort, and do not start taking them without talking with your doctor. Be sure you are honest about being in recovery for a substance use disorder when you ask about medical options for helping you sleep.
Rest Assured: We Can Help
At The Aviary Recovery Center, we want you to rest easy in the knowledge that we can help you or a loved one overcome a substance use disorder and begin a journey of lasting sobriety. We are ready to provide compassionate, personalized care and to provide the resources you will need as you move from treatment to recovery.