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Alcohol Withdrawal And Insomnia, A Real Threat To Recovery
When we're tired we get irritable and stressed; and it's far easier to give into temptation in a moment of weakness. Clinical research supports what logic tells us, and sleeping problems are significantly correlated with greater rate of relapse.
Why we get insomnia during long term alcohol withdrawal
Part of the problem is that insomnia can linger for months or even years after we quit drinking, depending on the history of abuse, and such long term sleeping problems and the cravings they inevitably create, is a big problem.
Alcohol withdrawal influences sleep in two primary ways.
Firstly, long and chronic alcohol abuse changes the levels of certain neurotransmitters, and these neurotransmitters are related to sleep. Alcohol is a depressant, and since the brain always likes to maintain equilibrium, when confronted with a continual consumption of this depressive substance, it changes slightly to minimize these depressive effects. This explains in part how alcoholics can drink such huge quantities of alcohol, and it also explains in part why alcoholics have a hard time getting to sleep without alcohol.
When you stop drinking, your brain is still "wired" as if you were, and since you are no longer consuming depressant chemicals daily, your brain has nothing to slow it down, and it races ahead creating sensations of anxiety, tremens, and insomnia.
There are some medications that can help over the short term, but over the months of long term withdrawal, only time will better the problem and alcoholics are left to their own devices to try to get some sleep.
Alcohol intoxication negatively affects the quality of sleep, and while intoxicated, the mind cannot readily enter into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the sleep associated with dreaming, and also associated with mood and memory consolidation.
The brain never forgets what it is owed though, and over the course of a long history of alcohol abuse, you are accumulating an enormous debt of REM sleep that needs to be repaid. Once alcoholics achieve abstinence, their sleeping time becomes dominated by prolonged and exhausting periods of REM sleep. Normal REM sleep represents only a fraction of total sleep time each night, but recovering alcoholics may endure almost continual REM, dreamy sleep.
It doesn’t sound all that bad, but it is in fact exhausting, and nightmares and other unpleasant dreams become a hallmark of post sobriety sleep.
The length of this REM rebound period depends on the duration of the addiction, but it can occur for as long as years, and can be a major influence to relapse.
Getting a quality and restful nights sleep can make maintaining sobriety a whole lot easier, and recovering alcoholics need to make good sleeping habits a priority to counter the insomnia inducing effects of long term withdrawal. If sleep remains elusive, a sleep therapist can sometimes offer assistance.
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