Insomnia is a condition marked by persistent symptoms related to sleep, such as difficulty falling and staying asleep. It also includes consistent unrestful sleep that occurs despite getting adequate sleep. Insomnia is linked to detox because it’s common in individuals recovering from long-term substance abuse, especially in those recovering from alcoholism. According to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, insomnia is five times more common among those in early recovery compared to the general population. If you’ve never heard of alcohol withdrawal insomnia or suspect that you’re struggling with it, here’s what you should know.
Why Does Alcohol Cause Insomnia?
Alcohol detox is an imperative part of getting sober. But with detox comes withdrawal. Withdrawal is different for everyone, and the severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on several different factors. While some may be lucky enough to get by with a few annoying but manageable side effects, others may experience more severe, persevering symptoms.
Shaking, sweating, and nausea are all common symptoms that go away quickly, but sleep problems like alcohol withdrawal and insomnia can haunt recovering alcoholics for a while. Anywhere from 25 to 72% of patients receiving alcohol abuse treatment report experiencing sleep problems.1 Although recovering from alcohol and insomnia go hand in hand, many people with alcohol use disorders already struggled with insomnia before their treatment began.
It’s common for people with drinking problems to use alcohol to help them fall asleep. This is due to alcohol’s relaxing effects, which are produced by the substance’s impact on the neurotransmitter GABA. Specifically known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, this chemical messenger sends signals to nerve cells to reduce excitation and activity, thus causing symptoms like relaxation, calmness, and sometimes sleepiness.
However, while drinking can help people fall asleep faster, it can make sleep problems like insomnia worse in the long run. People who regularly use alcohol as a sleep aid are more tired and less alert than people who do not drink alcohol at night.2 This is mainly due to the substance’s impact on the brain and body’s ability to sustain a normal sleep schedule.
Alcohol detox insomnia is mainly the result of drinking’s impact on the individual’s sleep schedule. High doses of alcohol can increase the time it takes someone to fall asleep.2 Drinking high amounts of alcohol can also inhibit Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which is thought to help with memory consolidation. It’s also considered the sleep stage in which we experience the deepest sleep.
Although the effects of alcohol and insomnia become less prominent as regular alcohol use continues, there is usually a REM rebound effect when drinking stops or when the individual undergoes a medical detox.2 This sudden change may be part of the reason for alcohol withdrawal insomnia as the body is trying to adjust back to a normal sleep cycle, sometimes years after being out of whack. This increase in REM can also lead to sleep disruption later in the night from increased dreaming and nightmares.2
Furthermore, alcohol impacts the neurotransmitter GABA to produce sedation, impairment, and other typical side effects. However, GABA also plays a crucial role in helping the body regulate certain functions, including sedation and relaxation crucial for sleep. Alcohol harms the natural production and stimulation of GABA in the long run, damaging a variety of functions, including the body’s ability to regulate and manage sleep.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia Last?
The alcohol withdrawal insomnia timeline is different for everyone, but sometimes symptoms of insomnia from alcohol withdrawal are still present even months after the person has quit drinking.3 While the seriousness and duration of withdrawal symptoms usually depend largely on the severity of the addiction, alcohol withdrawal sleep problems may not follow this same pattern.
A study found that the severity of alcohol withdrawal insomnia depended more on the person’s level of depressive symptoms rather than their drinking history.4 Even so, moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, typically last 72 hours and slowly dissipate in the following days and weeks. Fortunately, our drug rehab in Pennsylvania offers a residential treatment program that addresses symptoms like alcohol withdrawal insomnia to help clients recover and stick with their goals.
Alcohol Insomnia Treatment
Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is more than just annoying, persistent sleep problems; it’s also often associated with relapse.1 Aside from cravings and other withdrawals, insomnia can add more stress to the recovery process. It is necessary to address this promptly, especially considering the importance of rest for recovery. At Clearbrook Treatment Centers, we understand that recovery from a substance abuse problem comes with many hurdles, but we have our patients’ long-term success in mind.
If you or someone you care about is battling drug or alcohol abuse, don’t wait to get help. Call Clearbrook today at 570-536-9621 to learn more about our Pennsylvania addiction treatment, or send us your contact information, and one of our specialists will reach out to you right away.
- SAMHSA – Treating Sleep Problems of People in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders
- NCBI- Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use
- Oxford Academic- Impact of Alcoholism on Sleep Architecture and EEG Power Spectra in Men and Women
- Wiley Online Library- Comprehensive Assessment of Insomnia in Recovering Alcoholics Using Daily Sleep Diaries and Ambulatory Monitoring