Can Drug Withdrawal Cause Insomnia?

Dr. Ximena Sanchez-Samper

Ximena Sanchez-Samper, MD is a Board- Certified Addiction Psychiatrist who obtained her degree as a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and completed her Addictions Fellowship through the combined Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital / Brigham and Women’s Hospital Addictions Fellowship program in 2004.

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Can Withdrawal Cause Insomnia?

Experiencing withdrawal from any substance can be extremely overwhelming emotionally and, in many cases, even physically. Understanding whether drug withdrawal can cause insomnia is essential. The more familiar you become with insomnia, its causes, and how it is connected to withdrawal, the easier it will be for you to find remedies. These solutions will help you cope as you transition to a life free from the use of any substance.

Unfortunately, sleep disorders, including chronic insomnia, are common among individuals who have a substance use disorder, also known as SUD. Working with the right experts and specialists can assist you in finding the ideal treatment plan you need. This will help you address your insomnia while simultaneously addressing withdrawal. 

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that has impacted between 30 and 40% of adults  in the United States. Insomnia is classified as the inability to fall asleep with a routine in place, the inability to stay asleep, and difficulties attaining a good night’s rest. Insomnia may be triggered by external environmental factors. It may also be triggered by underlying issues that are psychological or physiological. One issue may include a response to substance withdrawal. 

Insomnia is not uncommon at some point or another in one’s life. However, it’s important to note that only approximately 10% of those who are suffering from the disorder do so chronically. Chronic insomnia is defined as experiencing sleeplessness three times per week for at least three months or longer.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Insomnia

Identifying signs and symptoms of insomnia can help you on the right path to recovery. This is especially true if you are experiencing the effects of withdrawal. Some of the most common signs of insomnia include:

  • Inability to maintain a set sleep schedule: The inability to maintain a set sleep schedule may be a telltale sign that there is something disjointed about your sleeping routine.
  • Lack of quality sleep: The inability to get a “good night’s rest” over at least three consecutive months is often a sign that insomnia may be to blame.
  • Fragmented and disjointed sleep: Waking every few hours during the night is another potential sign of a sleep disorder or chronic insomnia. 

How Insomnia From Withdrawal Can Impact Your Daily Life

Getting restful sleep each night is imperative at any stage in your life regardless of your age. When you begin experiencing sleep deprivation, you run the risk of developing a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional side effects. Insomnia may come on quickly or over time, depending on the root causes or underlying triggers of the insomnia itself.

For some individuals, it is not uncommon to experience a loss of interest in typical hobbies and preferred activities. Social anxiety and even isolation may also become more common in those who are unable to get a good night’s rest each evening. Missing work, important social dates, and even holiday gatherings may occur when someone is suffering from insomnia with little to no recourse.

Increased anxiety and/or irritability is not uncommon in those who are struggling with bouts of insomnia. Increased anxiety is even more prevalent with chronic insomnia. Individuals who are incapable of getting adequate rest and sleep each night may find it more difficult to regulate their emotions. They may find it more challenging to solve problems each day. When someone is struggling with insomnia, they are more likely to find it difficult to keep up with a traditional routine. Simple acts of socializing can also become more tedious.

How Is Insomnia Diagnosed

Diagnosing insomnia is half the battle, especially if you’re unfamiliar with some of the common patterns involved. Insomnia may be diagnosed by working with a sleep disorder specialist. A sleep specialist will review recent and long-term behavioral patterns that are linked to insomnia.

While reviewing potential contributing factors of insomnia, you will be asked to review your recent and long-term sleep schedules. Your sleep schedule and routine for the past three months will be requested, or you will start tracking your sleep quality each night. While tracking your sleep schedule, you will also be asked to share potential sleep disruption patterns you’re experiencing.

You will also need to consider potential environmental factors when you’re struggling to sleep each night. Environmental factors may include your surroundings, the climate you’re in, pollution, and even the comfort of your bed or where you sleep each night. Additionally, you will also want to keep track of the medications you take regularly and their potential side effects. Unfortunately, some medications may contribute to insomnia or the inability to achieve a good night’s rest if the medication is incompatible with you. 

It is important to keep in mind that insomnia differs from traditional sleep deficiency. For a diagnosis of insomnia, an individual must experience chronic disruption of sleep that occurs at least three times each week for at least three months consecutively. Individuals who are experiencing insomnia are more likely to do so even if they feel physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted or worn-out. 

What Is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is classified as the onset of a particular set of signs and symptoms associated with a specific substance that is no longer being ingested, consumed, or used in any capacity. Withdrawal may lead to a cascading of various signs and symptoms while an individual’s body is readjusting to life without said substance. 

Withdrawal Timelines

Understanding withdrawal timelines for those who are struggling with chronic addictions or dependencies is important to understanding potential treatments and solutions. When it comes to withdrawal, the following timelines are relevant:

  • Alcohol: Typically, five to seven days are required to complete the withdrawal process from consuming alcohol regularly and/or consistently.
  • Cannabis/marijuana: Cannabis may require five days for the average user and up to 14 days for those who are chronic users.
  • Nicotine: Withdrawal from nicotine, or tobacco, may require two to four weeks in total for physical withdrawal symptoms to begin to dissipate.
  • Benzodiazepines: For those who are familiar with using benzodiazepines for anxiety, depression, or even another mood disorder, the acute withdrawal timeline may require one to four weeks (for those who have not been utilizing benzodiazepines long term) to three to five weeks with a gradual tapering of the medication for long-term clients.
  • Stimulants: Substances such as amphetamines (including methamphetamine) and cocaine may require one to two weeks before an individual shows signs of improvement in terms of physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • Opioids: Individuals who have taken opioids for a short time but have developed a dependency may require four to 10 days of ongoing monitored treatment to make a full recovery from withdrawal signs and symptoms. For those who are struggling with methadone withdrawal, the total process may take between 14 and 21 days, depending on the severity of an individual’s tolerance to the opioids.

Can Withdrawal Cause Insomnia?

The short answer is yes. The side effects you experience during withdrawal will vary depending on the substance your body has become dependent on. The tolerance you have built up will also determine the severity of your withdrawal. 

Substances That Can Trigger Signs of Insomnia Upon Withdrawal

When you are going through the withdrawal process of consuming or utilizing any addictive substance, there are many potential side effects and risks you will need to understand. Knowing how various substances impact the body and brain and can ultimately cause insomnia can also help significantly when you are experiencing different signs and symptoms of withdrawal. 

Opioids and Insomnia Links

Some clients who utilize opioids in any fashion experience some form or another of insomnia. This is especially true without monitoring of opioid prescription medication ingestion over time. Although initially, opioid use appears to improve a client’s quality of sleep each night, this effect will begin to wear off after approximately 90 days of persistent use as an individual’s tolerance begins to grow. Central nervous system disruptions can lead to the inability to sleep well throughout each night regardless of how much you try to rest.

Cannabis and Insomnia

Although cannabis has been thought to assist with the sleep onset in individuals while increasing Stage 3 sleep, it can also cause long-term changes to the body’s endocannabinoid system and an individual’s neurobiological makeup. Long-term use of cannabis may lead to sleep disruption and dysfunction. However, it is not yet possible to definitively state that cannabis is the root cause of the sleep dysfunction on its own, or if there are other underlying issues present in a client.

Cocaine and Insomnia

Cocaine is a substance that can eliminate an individual’s desire for rest and sleep. Acute use of cocaine will immediately begin disrupting sleep patterns. Cocaine will also eliminate any sleeping habits already in place. Long-term usage of cocaine can lead to decreased sleep latency and quality.

Treatments for Chronic Insomnia

Dealing with insomnia can be entirely disruptive to your way of life. It can infiltrate daily responsibilities from managing your work to your closest relationships. Understanding some of the treatments for chronic insomnia can assist you as you work through overcoming the reliance on any substance that may have contributed to the insomnia you are experiencing. Common treatments for chronic insomnia include numerous techniques. 

CBT therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is a leading resource for many suffering from anxiety or insomnia. A few medications are recommended for individuals with insomnia. Medications may be prescribed on an individual basis depending on the severity of the insomnia. 

Encouraging individuals who struggle with insomnia to lead a healthy lifestyle is imperative. A healthy lifestyle includes eliminating alcohol, nicotine, and even caffeine from one’s routine. Exercising for at least 30 minutes daily can improve the ability to sleep well. This can help drastically improve the quality of sleep one gets each night. 

Ways to Combat Insomnia From Withdrawal

In addition to seeking professional guidance, there are a few ways to improve your routine sleep hygiene. These help combat any form of insomnia, even if you are experiencing a sleep disorder as a result of withdrawal. When you want to improve your sleep hygiene to increase your chances of getting a good night’s rest each night, keep the following tips in mind.

When you intend to sleep, set a designated time. Familiarize yourself with a set routine each night to train your mind, brain, and body. Once your body is familiar with your routine, it will begin to prepare itself for sleep each evening. Avoid spending too much time in your bed. Instead, designate your bed as a sleeping area only, to help your mind adjust to healthy sleeping patterns.

Avoid consuming substances such as alcohol, cannabis, or even coffee. This will help reset your body without triggering anxiety or restlessness. Even if you enjoy caffeine, it’s important to limit your daily intake. Setting a cut-off time during the day will prevent you from remaining wired at night. 

You will also want to exercise 30 minutes each day. This can have a significant impact on the quality of sleep you get each night. Brisk walking can help you release natural endorphins while tiring the body out in time for bed.

Finding help from professionals can go a long way in your road to recovery. From CBT and CBT-I to exploring new pharmacotherapies, the right specialist can help. 

Seeking Help for Insomnia From Withdrawal

When you experience withdrawal effects including insomnia, it is imperative to build the right support group around you. It is also essential to seek out treatments and programs that are ideal for your needs. At Charles River Recovery, discover how to address the signs and symptoms of withdrawal to overcome reliance on substances as you defeat chronic insomnia in your everyday life.