Insomnia is a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal. It's a frustrating situation to be in, but if you quit drinking and you are having trouble falling asleep, it’s very likely that the two are connected. Sometimes, alcohol withdrawal insomnia is bad enough to cause a relapse. Read on to learn more about alcohol withdrawal insomnia as Avenues Recovery explores what it is, how it’s caused, and discovers ways to manage and combat it.
What is the Connection Between Alcohol Withdrawal and Insomnia?
Understanding the connection between alcohol withdrawal and insomnia requires a bit of background knowledge about the effects of alcohol on the body.
Alcohol is a depressant. Its intoxicating effect on the body stems from the central nervous system being slowed down. Alcohol slows breathing and heart rate, reduces anxiety, relieves pain, and makes you drowsy.
In the short term, alcohol can relax you and serve as an effective sleep aid.
Over the long term though, this is counterproductive, because the more alcohol you consume, the greater tolerance your body builds up so you need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects. If you slept well with alcohol dependence, you are likely to wonder how to get sleep during alcohol withdrawal.
Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Insomnia?
The more alcohol you consume, the more your body tries to compensate in the other direction, making you more excitable in order to counteract the depressive effects of the alcohol on your central nervous system.
This is the reason behind many of the common alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as elevated heart rate and rapid breathing, shakes, and muscle cramps. Unsurprisingly, many people also find that after they stopped drinking, they can’t sleep.
Alcohol is a sedative, it helps the body relax and fall asleep. When recovering from alcohol addiction, your body got used to depending on alcohol as a sleep aid, and now it has to chemically re-adjust. Learning to fall asleep without the help of alcohol can be a process in and of itself.
Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is a very common side effect of early sobriety. In fact, more than half of people who quit drinking can’t sleep, and according to a study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the occurrence of insomnia is five times higher for those in early recovery than in the general population. So if you’re lying awake at night having recently started recovery from alcohol addiction, it’s very likely that you’re dealing with insomnia after quitting drinking. It’s normal, and know that you’re in good company.
For people who can’t sleep after quitting alcohol, the problem can be bigger than just re-learning how to fall asleep. Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is one of the biggest factors leading to relapse in the addiction recovery journey. This is because poor sleep leads to increased irritability  and anxiety. Being tired can influence your performance at work, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships. All of these things are directly associated with relapse. When alcohol withdrawal affects your sleep, it's important to get the proper help and support to stay on track and recover fully.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia  simply means trouble sleeping. If you lie awake at night, have a hard time falling or staying asleep, wake up early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep, or still feel tired after you wake up, you might have insomnia. How do you know if it's just stress or caffeine, or if you really have insomnia?
The signs and symptoms of insomnia include:
● Difficulty falling or staying asleep
● Not feeling rested after a night’s sleep
● Waking up too early in the morning
● Daytime sleepiness
● Hard time napping, even when tired
● Irritability, depression, or anxiety
● Increased accidents or errors
● Difficulty focusing or remembering things
It doesn't take long for sleep deprivation to start affecting daily functioning. But just because you suffer from insomnia doesn't mean you are stuck for life. Transient Insomnia passes within a month. Short-term insomnia lasts anywhere from one to six months, and you are only classified as suffering from chronic insomnia after six months or more.
The good news is that insomnia from alcohol withdrawal usually only lasts about a week. After that the body begins to adjust, the chemical balance in the brain is re-calibrated, and you should be sleeping easier. Hold tight until that happens!
What to do About Insomnia After Quitting Drinking
There are ways to still get to sleep during alcohol withdrawal. Remember, insomnia after quitting drinking is just like insomnia for any other reason. Follow these tips to get the most out of your night's sleep, and maximize your detox journey:
- Commit to a regular sleep schedule
The more consistent you are with your bedtime and wake-up time, the better. That’s because your body has an internal clock called the circadian rhythm that tells your brain when it's time to close up shop for the day, and acts as an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning.
- Set up a relaxing bedtime routine
Choose what feels right for you. It can be relaxing with a cup of tea, a soothing bath, or a good book. Get your body used to unwinding so that when it's bedtime, you’ll be ready to shut down and fall asleep.
- Avoid sleep deterrents
Caffeine past mid-day, long afternoon naps, and bright screens too close to bedtime can keep you up and wired until late at night. Stay away from things that cause you stress and anxiety close to bedtime, too.
- Create a conducive sleep environment
Keep your room dark, and keep your bed exclusive for sleeping. That way, your body will know what to do when you pull up the covers. Try to keep the room quiet and at a comfortable temperature to maximize coziness and help you drift off easily.
- Sleep meds
Regular over-the-counter sleep aids are remarkably effective in helping the chemical balance in your brain tip toward relaxation mode. You can try taking melatonin for your alcohol withdrawal. If that’s not enough, speak to your medical practitioner about meds that are specific to alcohol detox to help the over-stimulated nervous system successfully regain its equilibrium.
Find Support for Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia
Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is a frustrating side effect of quitting drinking and one that can easily affect your daily functioning. You don’t have to go through it alone. As experts in the addiction field, Avenues Recovery can offer you the support you need to sleep well right from the start of your recovery. Contact us 24/7 for information and support about alcohol addiction and recovery. We’re here for you all the way through your recovery journey.