The quick answer: It depends on the person, but relief will come if you give it time. Two weeks to several months is normal.
That’s me proving sleep can happen and my sneaky girlfriend grabbing a selfie.
Even with mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms, I had a lot of trouble sleeping when I first went sober. Here’s a timeline of my sleep problems and when things finally got better. Leave me a comment to share your experience.
I’ve been asking around the recovery community and there is the general consensus that 2 weeks – 4 months is normal, if you’re past that look for other issues. The process is different for everyone, we all have different complications of alcoholism.
Week One: Expect problems. From night sweats to bad dreams, this is the physical withdrawal stange and your brain is freaking out for alcohol.
Week Two: Some improvement, but not for everyone. It’s important to limit caffeine and find a schedule. Many former drinkers swear by exercise and natural remedies to help them get better sleep.
Week Three: Expect better sleep, unless you’re a difficult case. This is when I’d ask my doctor if I couldn’t get sleep.
Week Four: If you’re still having trouble, it may be more than withdrawal. I was slow to recovery but week 4 was my magic number. I started taking random naps and going to bed earlier each night.
When to get help? If you’re in a medical rehab program possible that they will give you prescription help. If you’re doing recovery on your own, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the potential side effects. As always, educate yourself on severe withdrawal symptoms and be ready to seek medical help – especially if it’s your first time giving up alcohol.
Some Other Issues
To be fair, my experience wasn’t normal. I am adjusting to life in the Caribbean without air conditioning. It’s hard to sleep when you’re hot.
If you’re dealing anxiety or bipolar symptoms, your experience may be much worse. Alcohol abuse can mask other sleep problems, so it’s possible that something beyond withdrawal is your root cause.
Melatonin never worked for me. I would fall asleep fine, but always wake up after about two hours later. Other things to try: valerian, passionflower, 5htp, GABA, and magnesium.
Benadryl is another mild sleep aid. I always felt terrible when I used that for a cold, so I’d rather take my chances with insomnia. Again, ask your doctor or pharmacist before trying something drastic.
Steph B gave me this great advice:
But bottom line, even on nights I don’t sleep well it’s a hell of a lot better than 8 hours of drunken passed out sleep. Hang in there, it will get better, just remember that your brain needs to heal.
It’s not all great news, some friends in recovery continue to have issues with sleep.
@sobertony i think a lot of us still have ongoing sleep troubles. Some nights I sleep amazingly well and others are awful.
— Cassie (@cassieglows) March 18, 2017
Not to sugarcoat the problem, Psychology today has this to say:
It is well known that most alcoholics had significant sleep problems prior to active drinking and that these generally worsened during active drinking and through treatment and recovery. While 15 percent of the general adult population struggle with persistent insomnia, more than 50 percent of alcoholics report having such problems that predated their drinking.
I’d love to hear your experience. When did sleep problems resolve? How many days sobriety before you could actually rest? Leave a comment below to let me know.