A good night's sleep is priceless, and in early recovery it may be difficult to come by. Sleep problems impact your ability to concentrate, your mood, and your general outlook upon life. They are extremely common among people getting sober and sometimes last quite a long time. We believe that the longer these sleep difficulties linger, the more unstable the internal environment becomes, and the more likely the individual is to fail in their pursuit of extended sobriety.
There are safe nutritional and herbal supplements that we'll talk about later in the rules that can likely help, but a brief discussion about sleep will be good for now.
Sleep is one of the most highly correlated markers of mental health. Almost invariably, those complaining of mental health imbalances - anxiety, depression, anhedonia, lack of motivation - do not have a healthy sleep schedule. Although scientists are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, it is generally accepted that sleep disruption — which affects neurotransmitter levels and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing emotional regulation and the ability to think clearly. In this way, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric and emotional disorders, and vice versa.
Because sleep disturbances are so common in recovery, individuals rarely adhere to a stable and consistent wake up time. For example, if one has a poor nights sleep on Friday and wakes up unexpectedly at 4AM, the temptation may be to try sleeping until 11AM on Saturday to make up for it, or worse still take a long nap in the middle of the day. These "corrections" lead to a chronic cycle of disrupted and unstable sleep.
Instead, wake up at the same time every day, including weekends or days off. Set a wake up time that you can adhere to every day and that gives you enough time for a quiet morning routine and to prepare and eat a large breakfast.
Why does it matter to wake up at the same time? Waking up is the first thing that you "do" each day so it is important to begin the day with a success. Studies show that when we begin a day feeling already that we are succeeding, the likelihood of this reverberating across the day improves exponentially. Your body follows a circadian rhythm and relies on consistency. Anchoring your wake time is a cue to your body for when it should get moving and when it is time to wind down.
Notice that we haven't said to go to sleep at the same time each night. This is because current research is fairly consistent on this point - if we remain strictly committed to our wake up time, the nighttime sleep schedule will simply take care of itself. A typical day's activities will appropriately exhaust the body to the point that it is ready for and actually craving rest at night. To stabilize one's sleep schedule, this recommendation needs to be adhered to regardless of any specific circumstances.
For example, if you set your alarm for 7:00AM, lay down to go to sleep at 11:00PM, but do not fall asleep until 2:00AM, this does not change what time you should wake up! The alarm is still set for 7:00AM, therefore this is the time you will be getting up. Trust us you will be fine on five hours for the day and this will increase the likelihood that your body will be tired enough to fall asleep with less difficulty the following night.
Because each individual is slightly different with regard to his requirement, we are not going to suggest an exact amount of sleep (but it tends to be around 8 hrs/day). Remember, active drug addiction is an unbelievably unhealthy and irregular lifestyle so many people need to be coached and walked back through the components of a healthy and regular lifestyle.
This might be assumed since we are suggesting that you wake up at the same time each morning, but it still needs to be said. Resist the urge to snooze your alarm. One reason is it is in direct conflict with the suggestion of waking up at the same time each morning. Also, however, is another example of starting the day off with a success rather than a failure. If the intention before going to sleep at night is a specific wake up time, and then it is not accomplished because the snooze button was repeatedly pressed, this is an example of beginning the day with a failure, and this is not the way we want to start the day!