The Importance of Sleep Hygiene in Recovering Mental Health and Addiction

February 15, 2015

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

Hygiene is a highly emphasized feature in our everyday life. We are always encouraged to practice the highest level when preparing, cleaning our homes, being out in public, and taking care of ourselves and our loved ones, particularly children and the elderly. In this day and age, it is difficult to walk into a hospital without a hand sanitizer advocating the importance of clean hands, or public washrooms, restaurants, and other facilities demonstrating the same. Yet when it comes to “sleep hygiene”, our attitude is often lax, despite the sheer number of studies which stress just how vital sleep is for basic functioning. How strange it is, then, that we strive to not cut corners by any means when it comes to factors like work, diet, and fitness, but our sleep is valued as dispensable, often leading to problematic and even serious consequences for the body. 

Vulnerable Minds at Risk without Sleep

The role which sleep plays on our mental health is profound. We see this on a day to day level when we have missed a few hours of sleep and find ourselves struggling to function normally, often requiring a kick from a stimulant like caffeine to get us back into gear. On a long-term basis, we begin to see how a lack of sleep takes its toll on the body; new parents and hard-working students, as well as those managing demanding jobs and working irregular shifts will start to experience fatigue and other effects. Many people who are in this situation do not choose to practice poor sleep hygiene – their schedule may not allow the required number of hours of sleep as well as a healthy routine. The body will naturally acclimatize and adapt to these irregularities, but on an even more long-term basis, bad sleep hygiene will have a negative impact.[i]

That is why establishing a stable sleep schedule is essential for everyone, and especially for those who are vulnerable.[ii] Sleep is the natural healer, the body’s most effective “time out” button where it can do some serious repair work. This is a vital function for everyone, but especially for those suffering from depression or recovering from substance abuse. For many people, insomnia can lead to the start of depression or perpetuate an already present condition, and in addicts, sleep is often completely dysfunctional where circadian dissonance occurs. This is partly because of the biological effects which certain substances have on the brain – drugs which initiate a huge comedown will plunge the body into a deep sleep, while other drugs will pump up the adrenaline and keep the body awake and active for several hours. Those who use drugs for this reason – whether it’s to perform longer at work or engage in a high party lifestyle – will subject their body to an abnormal schedule, and those who already engage in such a lifestyle, especially teens, are already at risk for potentially developing addiction problems.[iii]

Healing through Sleeping

Establishing a healthy sleeping schedule may seem like a fairly obvious, commonplace task, but especially for addicts, it’s anything but straightforward. Lifestyle habits and withdrawal symptoms can hinder this task considerably. Yet it is a vital step towards recovery. As well as giving the body the appropriate time needed to recover and restore, it is also about establishing a lifestyle which reflects a normal schedule, as well as empowering the individual during waking hours to adjust to a certain routine. This can be a challenging – and often discouraging – change to undertake; insomnia is a common side-effect of withdrawal and re-adjusting to a healthy sleep schedule can take months to achieve. However, with the right program in place and with support from friends, family, mentors and professionals, individuals can gradually ease themselves into a lifestyle where they are the ones conditioning their environment, not the other way around. 12 step programs are particularly effective in this instance, because they make lifestyle changes on a consistent and gradual, rather than drastic, basis which allows the individual to adapt slowly but surely. This means that reintroducing and reintegrating healthy sleep forms a valuable and effective component of this part of the process.

Using one or more therapeutic techniques to restore the body and help it recover from addiction can involve holistic practices as well as safe methods like those used with the MindSpa. While on their own they may not be the sole answer, they can certainly contribute to helping specific processes, like circadian rhythms, gain some regularity, which will in turn have a strongly beneficial impact on the overall health of the individual. This is preferable to using sleeping medication which can have a negative effect and which is addictive in nature along with other habits[iv] – instead, it is using a safer approach to conditioning the body to naturally adjust itself to a healthier pattern.

Once a regular schedule of sleep is established, then each day can be that day which many people in recovery hail as a fresh start.

 

[i] HealthLine.com. “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body

 

[ii] DBSAlliance.org. “Why Is Sleep So Important?”. Accessed February 20. 2015.

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_sleep_why

 

[iii] DailyScienceJournal.com. “Poor Sleep in Teens May Lead to Alcohol and Drug Addiction”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://dailysciencejournal.com/poor-sleep-teens-may-lead-alcohol-drug-addiction/2796/

 

[iv] DrFrankLipman.com. “Sleep Tips: Top 10 Sleep Mistakes And Their Solutions”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://www.drfranklipman.com/sleep-tips-top-10-sleep-mistakes-and-their-solutions/

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