Carefree and freedomWhen I was getting high I didn’t concern myself with sleep. Who needs sleep when you have drugs? I thought nothing of going to bed at 4am and wake two hours later to go to a 16 hour catering job. I’d drive a taxi 24 hours straight, slowing down for signposts that looked deceptively human, hitting my brakes on the empty late-night highway while hallucinating a traffic jam. I’d follow this up with a full day of classes.  Somehow I made it through a decade of sleep deprivation without hurting myself. Little did I know I’d become obsessed sleep the minute I got clean.

Sleep is often on my mind – laying in bed calculating how many hours until the alarm goes off while figuring out whether or not there will be time to sneak a nap into the next day. I wake up questioning whether or not I got enough sleep, measuring the quality, fantasizing about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep the way people fantasize about winning Lotto.

As a writer, I’ve spent most of my life on a night schedule, going to bed after 6am. The daytime street sounds of a ground floor New York City apartment – car alarms, honking, the front door of my building slamming shut, noise from the upstairs apartment – make quality sleep a challenge.  My problem was that writing at night stimulated my mind too much to sleep. I’d turn off my computer, go to bed, and the narrative would continue to dictate in my mind until the birds were chirping. Whenever I flipped over to an early morning schedule for coaching clients, my body wasn’t quick to follow.  When I finally established myself as a morning person I was hit with the hormonal insomnia of menopause. Does it ever end?

Throughout the years I’ve learned every drug-free trick in the book to help combat my personal struggle with sleep issues.    The good news is that, despite periods of frustration and exhaustion, I’ve always been willing to take positive actions to improve the quality of my sleep. I pass on the information I’ve gathered through personal experience to friends and clients who are convinced that they will never sleep again.

Newcomers hate being told, “no one ever died from a lack of sleep”. Who can blame them? What they need to be told is what they can do to give themselves the best odds of getting some. It’s true that it will take a while for your body to recover once you stop getting high and insomnia is often a big part of it. Prescription drugs especially have the longest detox. Maybe you’ll be lucky and within a couple weeks you are sleeping well. Personally, I didn’t get six solid hours of sleep until I hit around six months clean. I also did a lot of late-night fellowshipping with a coffee mug in my hand – but we all did and none of us connected it to our insomnia.

Here is a list of things to do that will improve the quality of your sleep:

–        Exercise 3-4 times a week

–        Take long walks every day. Get fresh air 45-60 minutes. This REALLY helps.

–        Try yoga (in a class or with a dvd). This will reduce tension you carry around every day.

–        Stop drinking caffeine by 4pm. If you fellowship, switch to herbal tea (bring your favorite tea with you).

–        Cut back or eliminate sugar from your diet. If this is impossible, do not have any in the evening (including high sugar fruits like grapes).

–        Get away from the computer two hours before bedtime.

–        Don’t go to bed with a full stomach but if you have not eaten since mid-day or have eaten especially light, definitely eat something so you don’t wake up starving in the middle of the night.

–        Take a hot bath with lavender bath salts.

–        Lavender oil on your temples , wrists and tip of your nose is known to promote relaxation.

–        Drink sleep promoting herbal tea (Sleepytime, Bedtime, Kava Kava, Camomile)

–        Download a meditation/relaxation cd onto your iPod and listen to it in bed with headphone.

–        Lay in the dark and listen to your breathing, hold one eye open, count backwards from 10 repeatedly if you can’t listen to your breath.

–        I find earplugs and/or a white noise machine help me to not jolt awake from external noise.

–        During extreme insomnia I will take Melatonin, kava kava, L-tryptophan, or drink warm milk (gross, I know but it really is a godsend). Taking any of these on a daily basis lessens the effect. Tylenol PM is a killer for people with Hep C.

–         A friend tells newcomers “Take a hot bath, jerk off and go to sleep and if that doesn’t work, repeat – eventually you will have another day clean”. I think it’s great advice.

This is what a sleep doctor suggests as a way to train your body to get the highest quality sleep possible (He suggest 6 hours sleep but I find my body requires 7 hours for maximum endurance):

–        Your bed is for sex and sleep only. Not TV viewing, not reading, not eating.

–        Whenever you wake up, get out of bed and sit in a chair to read, watch TV, journal then return to bed to sleep only.

–        Set the alarm for the same time every day. Go to bed (6 or 7 hours prior). You can stay up later but you can never wake up later.

–        -Absolutely NO napping

–        Leave computer two hours before bedtime.

Try any combinations of the suggestions above to help you to combat insomnia or any other sleep disorder. Fresh air and exercise should be at the foundation.

Pleasant dreams!



  Feb 20, 2012

Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

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