Sleep deprivation is one of nature’s cruelest tricks. Ask an insomniac, a parent of a newborn, or someone with an addiction. It is so much more than that awful feeling of being exhausted yet not able to sleep. It is more than just waking up tired, or even sleeping through an alarm because we didn’t get enough sleep. A lack of sleep leaves us at risk for a number of physical health issues, but also mental health issues. In fact, a lack of sleep is one of the reasons some people begin using substances in the first place. A lack of sleep can also interfere with our recovery, so it is something that truly requires our attention.
Physical Health Risks
So many people have trouble sleeping. Sometimes it is temporary and related to stressors in our lives. Most people go through periods of time with positive or negative stressors which impair their ability to sleep. When it goes beyond a few nights or even up to two weeks, then it becomes more problematic. There are obvious immediate impacts such as forgetfulness or fuzzy thinking. Or there are very serious risks such as having an accident at work or on the road, which can even be fatal.
Losing sleep can lower our immune system and make us more susceptible to things like the common cold. But it can also make us more susceptible to long term and serious issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. People with poor sleep amounts are even at higher risk of developing dementia. Sleep loss impacts our bodies now and throughout our lives.
Mental Health Risks
Everyone knows that a lack of sleep can make us irritable. But sleep loss can also lead to anxiety and depression, or even issues as serious as hallucinations or paranoid thoughts. Those are actually vicious cycles because depression and anxiety can also cause sleep deprivation, if not changes in our general sleep habits. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of poor mental health.
Insomnia is a disorder in and of itself, characterized by difficulty falling asleep at night, paired with drowsiness during the day. There are also mood disorders such as bipolar disorder that greatly impact sleep. For example, when someone is manic or even hypomanic, they sleep very little and often feel great. But then the depression hits and they sleep excessively. Suffering from insomnia can cause mental health issues, but mental health issues can cause sleep problems. It can feel like an unwinnable battle.
Addiction via Sleep Deprivation
Whether it be stress, insomnia, depression, or whatever, when there is a long-term lack of sleep, some of us turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to regulate sleep. Alcohol is well-known for helping us to relax or even induce sleep. It does not always work as intended, though, and then we are even more tired the following day when we need to be awake and alert.
Daytime sleepiness leads to using stimulants to stay awake. However, without a doctor’s care, our self-medication ends up keeping us up at night. And another type of vicious cycle is born, using alcohol or sedatives every night and stimulants every day. Before we know it, we are addicted to one or more substances. And the worst of it is that often, we are still not getting enough sleep.
Still worse, addiction itself can cause sleep loss. It interrupts our normal brain function which interrupts our sleep patterns. Even if sleep wasn’t a problem before, many drugs can interfere with sleep. In addition to all of the other negative side effects and behavioral problems associated with addiction, now we are anywhere from cranky to depressed to having paranoid thoughts. Sleep loss itself is powerful, but together along with addiction, they can incapacitate us.
Sleep Issues in Recovery
Recovery is a process, and as part of that process, we sometimes experience sleep loss. Our brains have been dependent on chemical substances long enough to create an addiction. In recovery, we are cleansing not only our bodies but also our brains of those substances. This causes actual physical changes in our brain, and as a part of this process, sometimes sleep is impaired.
There is also an emotional roller coaster that happens in recovery that can send our moods up and down, sometimes both within a very short period of time. Depression is a common side effect of recovery, too, because of all of the changes we are experiencing. Perhaps one of the most dangerous effects of sleep loss during recovery is the high risk of relapse associated with a lack of sleep.
If we have been active in our addictions, we could be experiencing so many symptoms and side effects. But one of the most miserable side effects is a lack of sleep. We are exhausted and just tired of being tired. Tired of going up and going down, tired of trying to self-medicate. It is time for us to head toward health and a good night’s sleep. Don’t spend another night anxiously counting sheep, call Enlight today at (805) 719-7954 to speak to one of our admissions experts.