How to Deal with Insomnia During Alcohol Withdrawal

Insomnia and alcohol withdrawal

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Alcohol recovery includes many side effects and health-related issues, one of the most common of which is insomnia. Insomnia or habitual sleeplessness is a problem that emerges during the early stages of alcohol recovery and can last for weeks or even months.

There is a strong relationship between insomnia and alcohol, even in those who have not become alcohol addicts. Some people think that they drink alcohol for insomnia, to help them fall asleep, but it has been scientifically proven that the opposite is true. Alcohol causes insomnia because it increases the time required to fall asleep, disrupts total sleep time, and increases the possibility of developing sleep apnea and snoring, both of which negatively impact sleep quality.

Unfortunately, this insomnia-alcohol connection is even stronger during the recovery process, because the disruptive effects that alcohol has on sleep continuity and can even become even worse for some time after one has stopped drinking.

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Know More About Alcohol-Induced Insomnia

What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia?

Young woman in bed covering ears with pillowA few common symptoms among recovering alcoholics are:

  • Waking up during the night
  • Inability to fall asleep again
  • Nightmares
  • Problems with falling asleep
  • Waking up tired
  • Racing thoughts during the night
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Sleepiness

Can Alcohol Cause Insomnia?

Alcoholic insomnia during withdrawal is caused by the body and mind adjusting to life without booze. In addition to experiencing nausea, tremors, and other physical symptoms, people trying to stop drinking often experience anxiety, excitement, and have worries about the future. Also, people in inpatient recovery programs can find it hard to relax and sleep in the unfamiliar environment of a rehabilitation center.

How Is it Dangerous For Recovery?

This condition can be a huge obstacle for a person trying to maintain sobriety. Insomnia can cause irritability and interfere with normal, everyday functioning. Sleep problems can also cause depression, anxiety, and even hallucinations. Other side effects may include:

Needless to say, sleep deprivation increases the risk of car crashes and work-related accidents due to lack of focus and thinking problems. Such issues can lead to relapse.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia Last?

To answer this question accurately, we need to make a distinction between acute withdrawal (often referred to as detox) and post-acute withdrawal. Acute withdrawal or detox refers to the period of time it takes to physically eliminate alcohol from the system. Insomnia during this period typically starts within eight hours of the last drink, peaks within one to three days, and can continue in some cases for weeks.

Post-acute withdrawal refers to a longer period, during which the body continues to experience uncomfortable symptoms as it adjusts to being without alcohol. Sleep problems during this period typically begin within three to five days after the last drink, and can last anywhere from several weeks to several months after the initial detox/acute withdrawal period is over. Interestingly, this type of insomnia from alcohol may present in the form of excessive sleep for the first few days, followed by longer periods without sleep.

How to Prevent This from Happening?

There is no instant alcohol insomnia cure, but there are some useful strategies that can help to deal with it, including:

  • Do a relaxing activity
  • Create a new sleep schedule
  • Drink less coffee
  • Do not watch TV
  • Turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime
  • Eat a small meal before bedtime
  • Avoid napping
  • Listen to relaxing music before going to bed
  • Avoid stressful situations during the day

What Can One Do About It?

Insomnia is one of the first withdrawal symptoms in the early stages of recovery and can linger for months.

It is a disruptive occurrence that impedes a good night’s sleep, which is necessary for everyday functioning, especially during stressful situations such as rehabilitation.
The most important thing to do, if this problem occurs, is to maintain healthy sleep habits:

  • Drink less coffee, especially in the afternoon
  • Be consistent when it comes to waking-up schedule
  • Avoid afternoon naps
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View Sources
  1. Miller MB, Donahue ML, Carey KB, Scott-Sheldon LAJ. Insomnia treatment in the context of alcohol use disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017 Dec 1;181:200-207. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5683932/
  2. Brower KJ. Assessment and treatment of insomnia in adult patients with alcohol use disorders. Alcohol. 2015 Jun;49(4):417-27. https://www.clinicalkey.com/#!/content/playContent/1-s2.0-S0741832914202102
  3. Thakkar MM, Sharma R, Sahota P. Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis. Alcohol. 2015 Jun;49(4):299-310. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4427543/

Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Content Contributor

Juliette has been working in the health communications field since 1991, when she began working at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Her initial campaigns focused on smoking cessation and cancer prevention. Juliette later moved to the corporate side of health communications, including working at Kaiser Permanente, where she designed interactive computer-based training for health education.

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  • Stephen
    Thanks this has been helpful. I have been alchol free for 1 year 6 months. I am now free from the drug. One thing i did notice about my own detox was that when i was trying to come off alcohol i could not sleep. At 47 i went through my last detox it took me 11days before i was able to sleep. I honestly thought i would never be able to sleep again. My mind would not allow me to sleep. It would not shut off. This subsided. I now have a regular sleep pattern. For anyone out there particularly people who are detoxing themselves hang on in there.
    • Armorel Holliday
      I’m numbing my insomnia with alcohol and I been trying to detox all by myself, but I’m thinking I may need help. I went four days and I couldn’t sleep, they have given me sleeping pills but it works once in awhile. I feel tired and at times wish I wasn’t here.