Sleep Issues in Opioid Recovery

Sleep issues are a common problem in Opioid recovery. While sleep medications often help in the short term, they usually end up making the problem worse in the long-term.

pair of eyeglasses laying on bedsheet near man's hand


Here is a list of non-medication techniques to help you improve your sleep:

Take care of your body:

  • Do not drink caffeine: No more than 1-2 caffeinated beverages a day and no tea, coffee, or coca-cola after 4 pm. Try to avoid alcohol as it interferes with sleep.
  • Do not go to bed hungry—have a light and healthy snack but do not eat a big or spicy meal late in the evening.

Physical exercise:

  • Brisk activity (especially late in the afternoon) can help to make your body tired and help you to sleep. Try to do some exercises every day.

Sleep only at night-time:

  • Do not have day-time naps, no matter how tired you feel. Naps keep the problem going by making it harder for you to get a full night of sleep the next night.

Have a regular bedtime routine:

  • A regular bedtime routine teaches your body when it’s time to go to sleep.
  • Have a soothing drink like camomile (herbal) tea or a milky drink.
  • Have a bath, or a routine of washing your face and brushing your teeth before bed.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • When in bed, think of nice things (i.e. think of 5 nice things that happened today—such as a nice conversation, seeing the sunshine, or hearing nice music on the radio).
  • Do a relaxed breathing exercise (one hand on the stomach the other on your chest, deliberately slow your breathing, breathe deeply in your stomach instead of high in your chest).
  • Try and wake up at the same time every day, even if this is tiring to begin with.

Coping with bad dreams:

Some people don’t like relaxation before going to sleep, or are scared of letting go. If that is you, try these preparation techniques instead:

  • Prepare yourself in case you have bad dreams by thinking of a bad dream then think of a different ending for it. Practice this new ending many times before going to sleep.
  • Before going to sleep prepare to re-orient yourself when you wake up from a bad dream.
  • Remind yourself that your are at home, that you are safe. Imagine your street, buses, local shops.
  • Put a damp towel or a bowl of water by the bed to splash your face, place a special object by the bed, such as a photograph, or a small soft toy.
  • Practice imagining yourself waking up from a bad dream and reorienting your-self to the present, to safety by splashing your face, touching the special object, having a bottle of rose or lavender essential oil to sniff, going to the window to see your surroundings. Put these practices into use when you wake up from a bad dream.

Make your bedroom a pleasant place to be:

  • Get a nightlight.
  • Keep it clean and tidy.
  • Introduce pleasant smells such as a drop of lavender oil onto a pillow.
  • Get extra pillows.
  • Make sure your home feels safe (i.e. doors are locked).

Bed is for sleeping:

  • If you cannot sleep after 30 minutes, get up and do another activity else-where such as reading or listening to music (try and avoid TV as it can wake you up).
  • After 15 minutes return to bed and try to sleep again. If you still can’t sleep after 30 minutes get up again.
  • Repeat this routine as many times are necessary and only use your bed for

Reprinted with permission from: Dr. Chris Cavacuti, MD