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.
Day 33. Still haven’t gotten good sleep.
Michael Nethery says
After about 10-12 days my sleep was off the charts amazing. I would wear myself out with exercise and the sleep was my body’s way of recovering. Sleep has been a huge part of my recovery so far. I’m asleep the second my head hits the pillow at night. This would not be possible if I wasn’t doing a crazy amount of exercise though.
Day 10 AF and it has varied. Some good nights but last night was awful. Getting to sleep is the problem.
Dave K says
Yesterday was my first dry day, I’ve been cutting back on alcohol use over the course of the past few weeks. (err, to be honest, I’ve been trying to cut back for several months but kept binging!). For as long as I can remember, I have been waking up in the middle of the night, staying up for 15 minutes to an hour and then going back to sleep.
During my drinking days, my smart watch would report an hour or two of deep sleep and the rest would be light sleep (about 8 hours a night) In the last week or so, it shows mainly light sleep.
That being said, my doctor put me on Paxil about a month ago. I went from going to bed around 10pm and sleeping until 6pm, to going to bed around 8pm and waking up between 5 and 6am. I still may wake up for a brief period at night but I pretty much get back to sleep right away.
I’m hoping I don’t get insomnia! I’m all for the idea of getting exercise. I walked 4 miles yesterday and I was sleepy by 6pm, lol. I kept myself up until 8pm. If you find yourself not sleeping, exercise may do the trick.
It has been a month. My energy level,of course, has gone sky high. I work hard all day and always have the thought of sleeping well that night. I can not sleep. My mind keeps going even though my body is pooped. I don’t like sleep aids. I feel like crap the next morning. I would rather lay there and toss and turn. I don’t miss the alcohol. I JUST WANT TO SLEEP!!