Sleep Disorders, Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Effects on Sleep
Sleep habits are known as sleep hygiene. According to the University of Maryland’s Medical Center, sleep disorders are among the most common problems plaguing our society: “We stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we overstimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television.”
The Role of Sleep
The practices we engage in around bedtime and in bed can either help or hinder our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Though scientists do not necessarily understand why sleep is so important to health, they do know that it has a direct impact upon brain function and health. Studies on animals reveal a direct association with diminished memory, cognitive functioning, ability to learn new skills, focus, and glucose levels, and endocrine functioning when a person gets less than a sufficient amount of sleep.
Main Stages of Sleep
The normal sleep pattern is broken into several phases throughout the night. For simplicity, we will describe the two most significant sleep phases. Slow wave sleep (SWS) is the time when a person is in a deep sleep, the heart rate slows as do the brain waves. People spend more time in SWS than other sleep stages.
The second significant sleep stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM). In this phase, the eyelids twitch and the person dreams. Heart rate and respiration speed up during REM sleep. REM sleep can last from 10 minutes early in the sleep pattern to 90 minutes at the end of a cycle. REM stage deprivation has lead to deaths of rats in sleep experiments.
Diseases generally associated with aging can affect a person who is sleep-deprived. Sleep is not passive, as once thought, but a dynamic time in which the brain reorganizes and the body strengthens its ability to heal (immune system), think, feel, handle stress (physical and mental), maintain healthy metabolism and heart function, and promote hormone balance and blood cell count.
Twelve Simple Ways to Improve Sleep
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other chemicals
- Create an environment conducive to sleep (quiet, dark, optimal temperature)
- Follow a pre-sleep routine
- Sleep when you are tired
- Don’t watch the clock, get out of bed and do a quiet activity until you are tired
- Allow sunlight into rooms in the morning and go outside during the day (natural light helps regulate your internal clock)
- Keep a regular sleep and waking schedule
- Avoid late afternoon naps
- Eat your last meal early in the evening and stick to light snacks if you must eat late at night
- Hydrate throughout the night, don’t drink too much or too little before bed
- Exercise early in the day (at least 3 hours before bedtime)
- Check with a physician if you suffer from snoring, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, or other conditions that cause sleep disorders. If you are constantly sleepy during the day, you may also be suffering from a sleep disorder
(source: adapted from: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips)
Substance Abuse and Sleep Disorders
According to the government’s National Center on Sleep Disorder Research, “all psychiatric and substance abuse disorders are associated with sleep disruption”. Sometimes, sleep deprivation can lead to psychiatric disorders and substance abuse; other times, substance abuse can lead to sleep deprivation. With both alcohol and psychoactive drugs, sleep deprivation can persist long after drug detox and abstinence. Furthermore, certain drugs can damage the neurotransmitters that influence sleep patterns.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine help regulate sleep states. Drugs such as alcohol and opiates interfere with this mechanism and result in the addict suffering from insomnia. Regular use of alcohol as a sedative to aid sleep will work initially and then create sleep disruptions as it alters the
stages of sleep. Alcohol is also associated with sleep apnea and the narrowing of the upper respiratory passageways. This will cause an addict to awaken gasping for breath.
Stimulants such as cocaine alter the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved with the state of wakefulness. When one uses cocaine, SWS and
stages of sleep are reduced. When the cocaine wears off, sleepiness occurs and the user must consume more cocaine to stay awake.
Marijuana, opiates and over-the-counter drugs can all seriously interrupt sleep stages either by reducing one or both of the major sleep phases.
Drug Detox and Addiction Treatment
Substance abuse detox is the process by which the body is cleansed of the toxins from drugs and alcohol. Medically monitored drug detox is the best choice, as detox from certain drugs and alcohol can be dangerous. Also, in a medically monitored detox, addiction certified physicians can help ease the physical and psychological pain associated with detox. Medications that are non narcotics can be prescribed to ease withdrawal symptoms including sleep disorders created by the abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Whether the sleep disorder led to the substance abuse or the substance abuse led to the sleep disorder, addiction treatment can help. The underlying cause for the sleep disturbance will be addressed and, through a variety of therapies, the addict can learn to handle sleep disruptions without relapsing. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven successful for both treating substance abuse and sleep disorders.
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