By Christa Banister

It’s no secret that Americans are notoriously sleep-deprived. And while that’s great news for, say, Starbucks, nearly 33 percent of the population experience symptoms of insomnia, which is characterized as difficulty falling or staying asleep.1

For those in recovery from substance use, sleep problems are especially common. Research shows that those abstaining from marijuana, opioid and cocaine use can all struggle with sleep in the early days of withdrawal.1 And that lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to groggy mornings — it can exacerbate the likelihood of relapse.

Why Sleep Matters So Much in Recovery

Woman waking up happyConsidering how sleep issues are far more likely to affect those with mental health disorders than the average person, addressing these concerns is a real game-changer for successful recovery. Sleep plays such a crucial role in mental health that it’s been suggested a good night of shut-eye promotes improved mental and emotional resilience, while fitful, disrupted sleeping can be the foundation for negative thoughts and emotional vulnerability.2

When it comes to treating mental health disorders, poor sleeping habits have often been dismissed as little more than symptomatic. But recent studies in both adults and children have underscored the importance of a good night’s sleep in recovery. Sleep problems can raise the likelihood of — or contribute to — the onset of some mental health disorders, including depression. In fact, treating a sleep disorder may even lessen the symptoms of a co-occurring mental health condition.

The quantity, not to mention the quality, of a patient’s sleep should be monitored by a healthcare provider. If you experience sleep disruptions or daytime sleepiness two or three times a week and these symptoms persist for a month or more, you may have insomnia.1

Treatment for insomnia and other sleep-related issues is tailored to the specific needs of each patient and features a mix of lifestyle adjustments. These may include:

  • Being mindful of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake
  • Making a deliberate attempt to be more active (regular physical activity has proven to help people fall and stay asleep more easily)
  • Employing a good sleep-hygiene strategy (having a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding television and other electronics in the bedroom)
  • Using relaxation techniques to foster a restful mindset that limits anxiety and all the list-making that often happens before bed

Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps reshape mental focus, or select medications may also be implemented in helping someone struggling with a sleep disorder.

Secrets to a Better Night’s Sleep

Just like a strong, fit body is achieved through healthy eating and exercise or a sharp mind is cultivated through regular reading and problem-solving, a good night’s sleep doesn’t come without a concerted effort. But the benefits are worth it. Not only does sleep help repair the body and boost the immune system, which means fewer sick days, but it’s also been reported that people who sleep seven hours a night live longer.3

Your body is truly the best gauge on whether you’re getting enough sleep. If you’re tired at work or wish you could crawl into bed mere moments after braving the morning or evening commute, chances are you need more sleep.

Your body thrives on routines, so it’s important to establish a pattern you can easily repeat for optimum results. Instead of binge-watching your favorite new Netflix find into the wee hours, go to bed at the same time every night to increase your chances of getting quality sleep.

It’s also important to set yourself up for success by creating a serene, relaxing environment. Don’t set your thermostat too high, as cooler temperatures are linked with better sleep. Painting your bedroom a calming color — and having comfortable bedding and pajamas — also sets the expectation for rest.

Finally, if you really want to get the rejuvenating effects of sleep, kick your smartphone to the curb. That annoying, bright light interferes with your slumber. Plus checking your Facebook feed too close to bedtime will get your mind far too engaged. It’s best to reserve social media and email checks for two hours or more before you hit the hay so you can focus on preparing your mind and body for the rest you need to support a healthy recovery.


1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Treating Sleep Problems of People in Recovery From Substance Abuse Disorders.” In Brief, Fall 2014.

2 Harvard Medical School. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard Health Publishing, July 2009.

3 Parker-Pope, Tara. “How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep.” The New York Times, Accessed December 14, 2017.