This week’s edition of Stop Drinking Alcohol is all about sleep, or the lack of it when quitting drinking.
Q & A
I can relate to getting up early in the morning for work. I was up at 5am for most of my working life. As far as the self-medication goes, I think we can all relate to that – to one extent or another. When I quit drinking, I probably went for over a month with difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep.
Having said that, I never got a good night’s sleep before I quit drinking. I could ‘fall asleep’ quickly enough, sometimes it felt like before my head hit the pillow, but I’d always wake up after a couple of hours.
Depending on how much I’d had to drink, I would either be wide awake and tossing and turning, or wide awake with my heart pounding in my ears, my head aching, my throat feeling like a desert, and I’d be tossing and turning and unable to get back asleep.
I much prefer where I am now.
I still have a restless night now and then. The reasons are nothing to do with alcohol though. Maybe I’ve drank too much coffee during the day. Perhaps I’m a little anxious about something, slightly stressed because a plan didn’t come to fruition, or a hundred other normal things that have kept us humans awake since year dot.
But I don’t have those lovely hangovers to look forward to, nor do I wake up in the middle of the night fearing that I’m gonna have a heart attack or a stroke or some other god awful self-caused death.
You have to put up with the sleepless nights for a while… that’s just it!
How long will the sleeplessness last? Who knows! Everyone’s different. It’s going to depend on many factors, all of them individual to you.
You just have to accept it and do what you can put yourself in the mood for sleep. Your body is not used to falling asleep on its own, without being boinked to sleep by booze.
Give it time!
5 Tips on How to Go To Sleep When You Stop Drinking
First of all, you must accept your sleeplessness. It’s probably going to happen. If it doesn’t, then good for you.
If you try to fight it, you’ll more than likely make it worse….
Tip #1: Prepare yourself for sleep.
I’ve always had difficulty sleeping with any sound in the room so I use earplugs whenever I go to bed. I also find that a dark room helps me sleep much better. We have blinds in our home so the room is always pitch-black. I thought it would be difficult to know when to get up in the morning because the blinds block out all the morning light as well as the streetlamps below our balcony, but my biological clock still wakes me up at 6am almost every morning.
Try using a sleep mask if you can’t achieve complete darkness from curtains or blinds, they’re cheap enough on Amazon or eBay. I used one on my holidays a couple of years ago. Once I got used to the feeling of something on my face, I slept like a baby.
A comfortable temperature is also very helpful when getting yourself in the proper state for sleep. Open a window if it’s too stuffy, or throw an extra blanket if it’s too chilly. Just experiment to see what works best for you. Take a soothing bath before you go to bed and use a couple of drops of lavender oil both in the bathwater and on your pillow.
Tip #2: Take relaxing breaths.
This is one of the things I learned to do when I started Kundalini Yoga classes. Lie in a comfortable position and just breathe long, deep, and slow breathes. Listen to your breathing and calm yourself as much as you can. This is always the first thing I try once I get into bed and find I can’t drop off. Normally I am asleep very quickly.
Tip #3: Clench and Relax.
The clench and relax technique is a shortened version of a method of relaxation used in psychotherapy. The idea is to clench and relax all your individual muscles until you no more tension.
Lie down and use the breathing technique to begin the relaxation process. Then, stretch your toes forwards and hold the stretch for 4 to 5 seconds and relax. Now stretch them backwards and hold 4 to 5 seconds. Move up to your ankle, stretching each joint first forwards, holding 4 to 5 seconds and repeat stretching backwards. Gradually move up through your body stretching and clenching each muscle for 4 or 5 seconds before releasing.
This is always the second technique I use. It’s a bad night when I get past my lower body.
Tip #4: Stop telling yourself you’re going to be awake all night.
The brain listens to what you tell it and tries as much as it can to comply with your commands. If you tell yourself that you’re going to be awake all night, you mind will oblige for as long as it can, until you fall asleep through exhaustion at least. Simply repeating to yourself “fall asleep, fall asleep, fall asleep” over and over will at least bore you to sleep.
Also, your brain can’t understand negatives. So, telling yourself “Don’t stay awake” over and over is interpreted by your brain as the command to “stay awake”. Why? Because your brain must first of all think about what it is you are telling it not to think about in order to make sure that it’s not thinking about it.
For example, if I say to you “Don’t think about standing in a pool of paint”, your brain just can’t help thinking about it. The process will go something like this… “What am I not supposed to be thinking of… [pictures standing in a pool of paint]… ah right, I won’t think about that then”. Your mind will then frequently return to thinking about what it’s not supposed to be thinking about just to make sure it’s not thinking about it. Make sense?
If you feel like saying a negative, say “Don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep” over and over. Your brain will only hear ‘fall asleep’. I know it sounds daft but, daft or not, it’s true and it works.
Tip #5: Establish a routine you do only at bedtime.
What you’re aiming for here is a bedtime ritual that you repeat every night until it becomes part of your routine. Your mind will associate this with sleep and you’ll be off to nod at the closing of an eye (or both eyes!).
My ritual is science fiction reading. I’ve done this since I was a young boy, so it’s well ingrained into my mind. This almost always puts me into the relaxed state my body needs for sleep.
I even used to ‘read’ when I was drinking. That was more comedy than sci-fi though. I either couldn’t focus on the words or they would seem to swim all over the page.
If you don’t read, try listening to one of your favourite artists. Or you could try listening to white noise, you know – that background hiss you get from a radio that’s not tuned into any station. Just download it from iTunes, or record some of your own.
The idea is to stop your brain from keeping you awake with all the chatter. Soothe it into a peaceful slumber. Goodnight!
Try Not To Focus On Negatives
Remember not to focus too much on the negative aspects of quitting. You will experience some difficulty in quitting, that’s for sure, but the difficulty of those few weeks after you quit is nothing in comparison to the bright horizon that you’re moving into. For most people, alcohol is the one thing that’s holding them back from actualizing the person they should be.
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So, that’s Stop Drinking Alcohol Week 33.
Thanks for visiting the site.
Until next time…
Onwards and Upwards!