Insomnia In Recovery From Heroin Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 6, 2021

Disrupted sleep is common in people who are in early recovery from heroin and opioid addiction. With time and treatment, achieving a more normal sleep cycle is possible.

Insomnia In Heroin Recovery

Difficulty sleeping is a common struggle among people in recovery from heroin addiction. Sleep disturbances can develop due to a whole host of factors, including the effects of heroin on the brain.

Chronic sleep disturbances in heroin recovery are treatable. Depending on the cause of the insomnia, treatment for this might include behavioral therapy, exercise, and relaxation techniques.

Learn more about heroin addiction recovery

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that refers to an inability to sleep, or difficulty sleeping. This includes difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep.

Insomnia can be acute (occurring for less than three months) or chronic (long-term). Insomnia can be caused by drug or alcohol use, or occur in early recovery from drug or alcohol abuse.

Common types of sleep disturbances in addiction recovery include:

  • daytime sleepiness
  • chronic fatigue
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • waking up repeatedly during the night
  • sleep apnea
  • unable to sleep for more than a few hours
  • nightmares
  • dreaming about relapse

Treatment For Insomnia In Recovery From Heroin Addiction

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers several suggestions for treatment options for people experiencing insomnia in recovery.

Suggested treatments for insomnia in addiction recovery include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • biofeedback
  • mindfulness meditation
  • regular physical activity
  • muscle relaxation techniques
  • creating a relaxing, pre-sleep routine
  • dietary supplements
  • prescription medications with no abuse potential

Non-pharmaceutical treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are largely favored for the treatment of chronic insomnia among people in substance use disorder recovery.

Prescription medications with little or no potential for abuse, however, might be considered if other treatment options prove ineffective.

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What Causes Insomnia In Recovery From Heroin Addiction?

Insomnia in addiction recovery can be tied to a range of physiological, psychological, social, and medical factors. From person to person, the exact cause can vary.

How Chronic Opioid Use Can Lead To Insomnia

Research on the effects of opioids shows that opioid drugs like heroin affect areas of the brain that are associated with sleep regulation.

Chronic heroin use may disrupt a person’s sleep cycle. In recovery, the effects of this might still persist, especially among people in recovery from long-term or severe heroin addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids can increase transitions between different stages of a person’s sleep cycle. Opioids can also affect respiration, or breathing, during sleep.

Heroin Withdrawal And Insomnia

Heroin withdrawal is closely tied to insomnia. Experiencing insomnia during the acute withdrawal process is very common and may cause mental or emotional distress.

Acute heroin withdrawal lasts up to one week on average. During this time, a person may experience drowsiness, insomnia, agitation, muscle and bone pain, and other unpleasant symptoms.

How Medications For Heroin Addiction Can Affect Sleep

Medications for heroin addiction, such as methadone, have been associated with sleep disturbances.

People who receive methadone maintenance therapy, or take buprenorphine—another medication for opioid use disorder—may experience difficulty sleeping or trouble staying asleep.

Social And Psychological Causes Of Insomnia In Addiction Recovery

Not all sleeping issues in recovery from heroin addiction may be tied directly to the drug itself, or the cessation of heroin use. Several social and psychological factors can affect this.

Contributing causes of insomnia in recovery might include:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • malnutrition
  • sleeping during the day
  • side effects of other medications
  • alcohol use
  • noisiness at home
  • troubles at work
  • domestic issues

Stress and mental health issues can affect a person’s mood, physical health, and their sleep cycle. If you’re experiencing a significant amount of stress, this can affect how well you’re able to sleep.

How Common Is Insomnia In Addiction Recovery?

Disrupted sleep is common in early addiction recovery. An estimated 75 percent of people receiving medications for opioid use disorder in recovery report insomnia.

Insomnia is believed to be a condition that can both predict future substance use and occur as a result of chronic heroin use. It can also be a risk factor for relapse.

Effects Of Sleep Loss In Heroin Recovery

Disruptions to a person’s sleep cycle can have serious effects on a person’s physical and mental health without treatment.

Effects of insomnia in recovery might include:

  • increased risk for relapse
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decreased alertness
  • headaches
  • daytime fatigue
  • low energy
  • mood swings
  • decreased sex drive
  • weak immune system
  • breathing problems
  • heart arrhythmias
  • high blood pressure

Insomnia can have detrimental effects on physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This might affect a person’s behavior, physical appearance, cognitive performance, and mood.

Signs Of Insomnia In Addiction Recovery

Insomnia is broadly characterized as a sleep disorder identified by an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night.

Signs of insomnia in recovery from heroin addiction might include:

  • waking up multiple times during the night
  • inability to fall asleep at a reasonable time
  • staying awake all night
  • sleeping only for short periods
  • feeling unrested after waking
  • waking up too early in the morning
  • lying awake for a long time before falling asleep

Insomnia may have physical effects and effects on mood. This can cause depression, anxiety, dark shadows beneath the eyes, and irritability.

Tips For Coping With Insomnia In Recovery

Struggling with insomnia can be difficult to grapple with in recovery. In addition to seeking treatment, here are some tips that might be helpful for people experiencing insomnia.

Tips and tricks for coping with insomnia in heroin recovery:

  • avoid caffeine
  • make sure you’re eating enough
  • exercise regularly
  • wind down before going to bed
  • stay away from screens before bed (e.g. phones, computers)
  • sleep in a dark, quiet room
  • avoid long naps during the day
  • avoid attending to stressful activities in the bedroom

Making an effort to relax before bedtime and creating a relaxing bedtime routine for yourself can help promote restful sleep.

For instance, taking a warm bath before bed, doing yoga, or using other mindfulness and meditation techniques in bed or before going to bed can help prepare the mind and body for rest.

Getting Help For Insomnia In Heroin Addiction Recovery

Recovery is a lifelong process. It doesn’t end with detox, and it’s common to struggle with issues such as insomnia in the early stages of recovery from heroin.

If you or a loved one is struggling with insomnia in early recovery, we can help you find additional treatment. Call us today to find treatment for heroin addiction.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 6, 2021
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