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The Impact of Substance Use on Sleep

Explore the link between substance use, sleep, and health. Plus, learn about common sleep disorders that people in addiction recovery typically experience.

How often do you find yourself staying up late at night? Whether it's binge-watching your favorite show, endlessly scrolling through your phone, or struggling to find comfort in your bed, you’ve probably been there. However, there's a crucial reality you mustn’t ignore: a lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your overall health. What's even more alarming is when this sleep deprivation is compounded by another critical concern: substance use.

Individuals with substance addiction, be it alcohol or illicit drugs, frequently wrestle with sleep disturbances. Unfortunately, the effects of this disorder on sleep often go unnoticed. This blog discusses substance abuse, its impact on sleep, and practical ways to get good sleep during recovery.

impact on sleep Source: Pacific Crest Trail Detox

The Science of Sleep and Substance Use

In the US, 50 to 70 million people have ongoing sleep disorders. However, having a good kind of sleep goes beyond just quantity — quality matters, too. 

Each sleep cycle has four stages: N1, N2, N3 (deep sleep), and REM. You’ll typically go through four to six cycles a night, which last around 90 minutes each. These stages and cycles are vital as they allow your brain and body to recuperate and develop. When you sleep, these particular biological processes happen:

  • Your brain consolidates new information and gets rid of toxic waste
  • Your nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which is needed to promote optimal brain health
  • Your body undergoes cell repair, energy restoration, and the release of essential molecules such as hormones and proteins.

Alcohol and illicit drug consumption can affect the ideal sleep architecture, disrupting the different biological processes mentioned above. Ultimately, it can negatively impact your thinking, emotions, and overall health. 

How Different Substances Affect Sleep 

Using substances affects how you sleep in diverse ways. For example, alcohol, a depressant, can induce drowsiness. This effect is dependent on how much you’ve consumed. In the long run, excessive alcohol drinking can degrade overall sleep quality. Additionally, it can cause chronic sleep issues.

Addiction to illicit drugs can also take a toll on your sleep quality. Cocaine, for example, alters how the body produces and releases melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. As a result, you might find it hard to fall asleep (or stay asleep).

Methamphetamine, another type of drug, stimulates the release of dopamine, a happiness-boosting hormone, causing wakefulness. This can disrupt your sleep pattern in the long run.

Meanwhile, heroin causes both alertness and drowsiness. And as you experience such extremely alternating experiences, it can ultimately lead to restfulness. When you’re deprived of quality sleep, it can further cause behavioral changes like mood swings.

Note that not only illicit drugs can impact how you sleep. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause sleep disturbances and insomnia. These include heart medications, antidepressants, corticosteroids, cholesterol medicine, and Alzheimer's drugs.

sleep disorders Source: Pexels.com

The Consequences of Sleep Disruption Due to Substance Use 

Sleep issues like this can be harmful both in the short and long term. 

Short-term Health Effects 

  • Physical exhaustion. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body won’t be able to rest well. Hence, it can lead to physical fatigue, affecting your daily function. 
  • Impaired cognitive function. Poor sleep also affects how your brain works, decreasing your concentration, memory, and decision-making skills. 
  • Mood swings. Disturbances in your sleep can make you feel heightened irritability and emotional sensitivity. 

Long-term Health Effects

  • Chronic health problems. In the long run, sleep disruption can be a factor for or aggravate conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. 
  • Mental health disorders. Poor sleep and substance abuse can exacerbate or contribute to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.
  • Reduced overall quality of life. Your overall well-being can diminish as you experience sleep disruption for a prolonged period. You can also affect your relationships with others and impact your job stability, financial health, and social status. 

You must pay attention to the importance of proper sleep hygiene because a complex, delicate connection exists between sleep and your overall health. If you’re battling with SUD, addressing sleep disruption can help you regain control of your physical and mental health. 

Sleep Disorders Associated with Substance Use

Here are three common sleep-related disorders linked with SUD — and how addictive substances can exacerbate them.


In one study, 6 in 10 substance use disorder (SUD) patients undergoing detoxification reported having insomnia. When you use substances, your sleep cycles will be affected, causing you to struggle to fall or stay asleep. The anxiety you may feel can also intensify this condition. 

Sleep Apnea 

There are illicit substances that help relax the muscles, including the throat muscles. Especially for those with narrow throats,  muscle relaxation during sleep can lead to airway blockage, causing breathing pauses known as apnea. Sleep apnea can disrupt your rest and cause daytime fatigue. 

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

RLS is more of a neurological disorder marked by an intense compulsion to move one's legs while at rest, typically occurring at nighttime when you’re lying (or sitting) down. Many SUD patients experience this while in their withdrawal phase.

sleep hygiene Source: Pacific Crest Trail Detox

How to Get Good Sleep During Recovery

A successful addiction recovery entails a multi-faceted substance use treatment approach — and part of your treatment plan is ensuring that you get good sleep. This is to help you restore your health, both in terms of your body and mind. 

Here are practical tips to follow:

  • Establish a sleep schedule
  • Invest in a comfortable sleep environment
  • Limit exposure to electronic devices 
  • Minimize stimulating activities before bedtime
  • Engage in regular exercises 
  • Eat a balanced diet, avoiding heavy meals before you sleep
  • Practice meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques

Apart from doing all this, you must also enlist help from a professional to get proper guidance. The key is pinpointing the underlying cause of your addiction — and sleep problems.

addiction recovery Source: Pexels.com

Final Words 

Sleep is an essential pillar of good health. When you’re struggling with addiction, you may experience sleep disturbances, which, in turn, can worsen your physical and mental well-being.  Neglecting both forms a harmful cycle, decreasing overall life quality.

The delicate link between sleep and substance use highlights the need for a holistic approach to addiction treatment. At Pacific Crest Trail Detox, you can seek professional help, better understand the need for prioritizing sleep, and ultimately achieve lasting sobriety. Get in touch with Oregon’s premier drug detox center today.

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