Sleep and Drug Addiction: What is The Relationship?

By Efosa Airuehia | 2525 Comments | Addiction Treatment,

Sleep and Drug Addiction: What is The Relationship?

The relationship between sleep and drug addiction is bidirectional. So, what does this mean?

Drugs and alcohol can cause sleep problems. Also, insomnia (inability to sleep) may increase the risk of drug addiction. This risk causes some people to self-medicate with substances.

Many mental illnesses have an association with poor sleep. Examples are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As we know, self-medication is common with many mental disorders. This process is even more likely when sleep difficulty is present.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS) recommend that adults obtain seven or more hours of sleep per night. This amount of sleep helps to avoid the health risks of inadequate sleep over long periods. Additionally, the AASM and SRS do not place an upper limit on the number of hours of sleep recommended per night.


How Do Drugs and Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Drugs and alcohol affect the way your brain functions. These substances can thus affect your sleep pattern. As a result, they can:

  • Affect the time it takes for you to fall asleep
  • Alter the amount of sleep you get
  • Decrease the quality of sleep you obtain

Withdrawal is a common presentation with many substances. When you suddenly stop using drugs or alcohol, withdrawal can occur. Disturbed sleep is often one of the symptoms you can experience.

Unfortunately, insomnia during withdrawal can worsen your cravings and contribute to relapse.

Did you know sleep helps with consolidating new memories? Indeed, it does. Thus, learning new coping and self-regulation skills will be harder if you are not getting proper sleep. As a result, your ability to quit drugs and live in recovery is hampered.

Dopamine is one of many chemicals in the brain. The interplay of drugs and alcohol with this substance contributes to addiction. Dopamine also has a role to play in the sleep-wake cycle.


Specific Drugs and Their Effects on Sleep

Some drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine can cause high levels of dopamine in your brain. For this reason, they can severely affect your sleep pattern. Insomnia can affect the dopamine reward pathways in your brain. Consequently, you may become more impulsive and vulnerable to using drugs and alcohol.

Drugs like marijuana affect the endocannabinoid system in your body. This system helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Accordingly, sleep difficulty is pervasive when people try to stop using marijuana. A study shows that about 10 percent of individuals relapsed to cannabis use due to sleep issues.

Examples of opioids are morphine, heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone. These drugs act on the body’s opioid system. This system also has a role in regulating sleep. Opioids can, thus, affect sleep. Insomnia is also common during withdrawal from these drugs. In high doses, opioids can slow down breathing severely and even lead to death.


How Does Insomnia Cause Drug Use?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. This condition can also contribute to drug use.

People who struggle with getting good sleep can find this very frustrating. As such, there is an increase in risk for substance use. Individuals may self-medicate their sleep problems.

Alcohol and benzodiazepines are common drugs people use for self-medication. One reason for this is because these drugs are perceived as relaxing. In some cases, people may use stimulants for fatigue caused by poor sleep.

In general, a lack of sleep decreases your attention, concentration, and alertness. Due to this, some individuals abuse stimulants, sometimes called “uppers.” They do this to increase alertness and energy temporarily. The most commonly used street drugs that fall into this category are amphetamines and cocaine.


Treatment of Poor Sleep and Drug Addiction

Sometimes, counting sheep just does not work!

The interplay between sleep and drug addiction has far-reaching effects. Thus, to ensure you live in recovery without relapsing, you must get proper management for both.

Stopping the use of drugs and alcohol is the first step. It is advisable to seek professional help to aid your recovery. Detoxification, treatment, aftercare, and support are crucial.

Your behaviors during the day and before bedtime can affect your sleep. Daily routines also determine your sleep quality. Food, drinks, medications, and your schedule can contribute to insomnia.

There are quite a few sleep improvement options to consider. Let us talk about some of them.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to a series of healthy sleep habits that can improve your sleep. Some of these helpful tips include:

  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day goes a long way. This routine should consist of weekends and vacations.
  • Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep daily.
  • Consider completing a two-week sleep diary. Journaling, in this manner, will help you understand how your routines affect your sleep.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Keep your bedroom quiet, relaxing, and at a cool temperature. Temperatures between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit promote more restful sleep.
  • Avoid television in the bedroom. Use your bedroom only for sleeping and intimacy.
  • Avoid electronic devices (TVs, smartphones, computers) at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Do not eat large meals before bedtime. Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings. Additionally, reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
  • Aim for a comfortable mattress, pillows, and beddings.


Exercising during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night. Physical activity has a role to play in increasing relaxation. Some studies show the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise 3-4 hours before bedtime. Such physical activity can be as short as 15 – 30 minutes.

Regular workouts boost the release of endorphins in your brain. These chemicals are also known as “feel-good hormones.”

It is essential to consider an exercise that you enjoy. It is more likely that you will keep up the habit if you find it fun. Engaging in regular exercise is another helpful way to help with poor sleep and drug addiction.



In addition to exercising our physical body, you should also consider your mind. Mindfulness is a mental state you can achieve by focusing your awareness on the present moment. It involves acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

To experience mindfulness, you need to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you are doing. This state means avoiding being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around you.

Mental exercises go a long way in helping you reduce stress. Thus, you feel more relaxed and gain more restful sleep. Mindfulness is a great way of helping with the combination of poor sleep and drug addiction.


Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps you understand the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It can, therefore, help you address the thoughts and behaviors that prevent you from sleeping properly.

CBT also includes techniques for stress reduction, relaxation, and sleep schedule management. It enables you to develop a positive skillset that helps with proper sleep. Redirection, visualization, and distraction are some of the helpful CBT techniques for inadequate sleep and drug addiction.



There are quite a few medications that can help with poor sleep. In most cases, the advice is to use sleep medications short-term. Additionally, you want to stay away from sleep medications that can be habit-forming if you are struggling with addiction.

Medications for treating insomnia belong to several different classes. Examples are sedative-hypnotics, benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines, antihistamines, some antidepressants, and dietary supplements.

Some of the side effects of some sleep medications include:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal behaviors, including sleepwalking, sleep eating, and sleep-driving.
  • Memory problems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Dependency and addiction

Poor sleep and drug addiction can perpetuate themselves. Thus, it is essential to get proper treatment. Treating the underlying cause of the sleep problem is the best alternative. In many cases, medications only offer a temporary solution. It is akin to placing a band-aid on the issue.

Behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes tend to create a more lasting positive impact on sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends using CBT first to treat insomnia, rather than going straight to medications.


Sleep Study and Sleep Experts

In some cases, insomnia may remain an issue despite trying out several different treatments. Your next step may require getting a sleep study and seeing sleep experts. The reason for this is to rule out sleep apnea. This condition is a severe sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of health problems, including:



  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Worsening ADHD
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Poor performance at school and work


The treatment for sleep apnea depends on the level of severity. Mild disorders respond to lifestyle changes such as losing weight, changing your sleep position, avoiding alcohol, and cigarette smoking. Severe sleep apnea may require dental devices, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), or even surgery.



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    The entire content of AddictionBlueprint, including content on drugs and alcohol, medications, therapies, facilities, spotlights, recommendations, and other features is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers regarding your addiction, mental and medical issues.


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