Why Does Sleep Matter in Substance Abuse Recovery?

In our health-conscious and beauty-focused culture, we know that the decisions we make each and every day affect our physical and mental health. Diet and exercise are among the top two areas promoted when it comes to healthy living practices. However, in reality, sleep practices are just as interconnected to physical and mental wellness. In order to care for your whole body, it’s important to consider how much your sleep matters and how your mental health is impacted by restful—or not-so-restful—sleep.

Sleep Hygiene

Physical hygiene is taught and learned from a young age. Brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing your hands, wearing deodorant, washing your face and cleaning your clothes all become common practices. But what about our sleep hygiene? Are we taught in the same way to power down our devices before bed, create a soothing sleep environment, and implement a routine for sleep and wake schedules?

Sleep hygiene refers to routine practices put in place before we sleep to promote beneficial sleep. 

While it is common practice to carry out routines for our body and skin to stay healthy during our waking hours, we often neglect the third of our lives spent asleep. Creating proper sleep hygiene practices achieves a similar goal for health by using specific habits every day to fall asleep and stay asleep.

This concept is becoming ever more popular as technology and busier schedules keep minds distracted, alert and awake. In truth, many aspects of our modern lives have impeded a good night’s sleep.

To introduce a sleep hygiene routine, consider the following—where you sleep, when you sleep and what is on before and while you sleep.

Where You Sleep

Where you sleep matters. Your body is accustomed to patterns as you move throughout your daily life, and your sleep patterns are no different. When you sleep in the same place each night, your body becomes familiar with this particular pattern and will more easily fall asleep. 

The right supportive bed also matters. Choose a bed that is supportive to your back and neck or consider supportive pillows or mattress toppers. Avoid sleeping for long periods of time in chairs and on couches when possible. 

Another important practice is choosing not to work on your bed. Although it may be the most comfortable spot in your home, your bed —ideally your entire bedroom— should be treated as sacred, and intended for the express purpose of sleep. 

The more you work on your bed, whether it’s doing homework or answering emails, the more your brain associates your bed with being awake and conscious. Unfortunately, this is true as well for those who watch tv in bed. This association is counterproductive for going to sleep without distraction. Choose not to work on your bed, or at the very least position yourself sideways in order to create a separate association.

The more that you can create a relaxing environment in your bedroom by painting it a soothing color, keeping it free of clutter, keeping the temperature cool and making it a comfortable place to be, the easier you will be able to fall asleep.

When You Sleep

When you sleep matters. Again, your body and mind thrive on patterns. This includes sleep and wake times. To promote healthy sleep patterns, pick specific times that allow for the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. Make it a priority to go to bed and wake up at those times each day, even on weekends. 

Going to bed at the same time encourages your body to recognize when you are tired and send signals to your body that you are ready to sleep. This communication process in your body also encourages your body to fall asleep faster. Waking up at the same time each day prevents grogginess from oversleeping and exhaustion from not sleeping long enough. Waking up at the same time is also one of the best ways to ensure that you will fall asleep in the evening and stick to your routine.

What is on Before and While You Sleep

What is on before and while you sleep matters. Blue light from phones, tablets, computers, televisions and smartwatches is a sleep deterrent. Your brain registers the blue light from the technology around you as a signal for staying awake to think. 

To promote good sleep hygiene, decide to turn off all forms of blue light technology at least one hour before you intend to sleep. If you find it hard to give up technology before bed, try reading as a replacement activity. Then practice setting aside all activities five to 10 minutes before you intend to fall asleep and leave off all blue light technology. At the very least, switch your phones to night mode and reduce brightness. 

For the 60% of Americans who choose to fall asleep with the TV on, studies have linked this tendency with weight gain, obesity, and being overweight. You may also want to consider that the exposure to the flickering tv screen each night is preventing important restorative work, such as consolidating memories and healing muscles.

For the best quality sleep, make sure that the room you sleep in is as dark as possible, and reduce any ambient light sources that may interfere with your ability to fall asleep. A noise machine might come in handy to replace the TV and drown out any background noise.

What you eat and drink before you Sleep

What you eat and drink before you sleep matters. Food and drinks contain specific nutrients that our bodies digest and use for energy. While some foods promote restful sleep, foods full of sugar and caffeine have the opposite effect. 

These send energy to our brains and keep them awake, alert and wired. This is one of the main culprits of a difficult time falling asleep, especially when our brain takes us on a tour through every mistake we’ve ever made as we are seeking that precious shut-eye. 

Healthy sleep practices include choosing to drink water before bed and cease eating at least an hour or more before bed (especially sugary and caffeinated foods/drinks). 

Helpful Practices to Get a Good Night’s Rest

  • Set an alarm to go to bed
  •  Set an alarm to wake up
  • Do not work in your bed
  • Change or wash bedding weekly
  •  Practice a mindfulness or meditation exercise before falling asleep
  •  Write down racing thoughts or to do’s before trying to sleep
  •  Cut off all blue light technology an hour before bed
  • Use an ambient noise machine or fan
  •  Eat nutrient-rich foods
  • Drink water throughout the day
  • Cut out sugary and caffeinated foods and drinks two hours or more before bed


Sleep and Mental Health

Akin to healthy eating, drinking water and exercise, sleep is a regular physical process that the whole body needs in order to work and function properly. Our brain receives energy from sleep just as it does from eating and exercise.

During the two main types of sleep, quiet sleep and REM sleep, the body and brain communicate through neurotransmitters and hormones. Unhealthy or interrupted sleep patterns disrupt these important communication processes in the brain and body. These communication processes are integral to mental health. 

Healthy communication between the brain and body promotes emotion regulation, the ability to receive, interpret and integrate information—learning and memory capacity. 

Quality sleep contributes to a better capacity to process and respond to emotions, promotes learning and primes the brain for storing and recalling memories. 

Conversely, unhealthy sleep practices can contribute to poor mental health.

Sleep issues and sleep disorders present both as symptoms or overlapping conditions with several mental health disorders. Depression is linked to both insomnia—difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep and hypersomnia—excessive sleepiness and/or time spent asleep. Some studies show a connection between increased sleep disruptions and manic-depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder, this includes a decreased need for sleep during manic episodes.

In addition, Harvard Health Publishing reports several correlations have been found between sleep issues and both anxiety-related disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD and more and ADHD.

Substance use disorders are no exception to this, as nearly all substances disrupt the brain’s systems dedicated to sleep, affecting the time it takes to fall asleep, the length and quality of your sleep. Many who are familiar with the withdrawal process are also intimately acquainted with sleepless nights that increase the risk of relapse.

When addiction is accompanied by mental illness, dual diagnosis treatment is necessary. You must seek help for both conditions if you expect to make real and lasting lifestyle changes.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Washburn House

At Washburn House in Worcester, Massachusetts, we offer our clients a safe and supportive place to rest and heal while working toward recovery from addiction and other co-occurring disorders. 

Even if you’re not dealing with a diagnosable condition, counseling can teach you many valuable lessons, including healthy coping methods and essential life skills, like how to have a quality night’s sleep. Dual diagnosis treatment can address both problems at once and teach you how to successfully manage each and remain committed to your sobriety in the years to come.

Your sleep does indeed matter. In fact, it matters a great deal to your physical and mental health. Choose healthy sleep hygiene habits. Honor your body and mind by giving yourself the healthy sleep you need. 

Give us a call today to learn more about our dual diagnosis program that can help you live the life you want. 855.298.3104



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