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Insomnia and ‘Sleep Hygiene’

People who are alcohol and drug dependent often suffer from some degree of initial insomnia. This often raises the question of whether sleeping medication should be prescribed.

In answering this question it is important to remember the relapsing nature of addiction. Chemical dependence is the term we use to explain that alcoholics and addicts are vulnerable to the effects of mind-altering substances, and using sleeping medication may trigger craving and the compulsion to use. 

Insomnia During Detox

Remember that sleep disturbance is common in patients who are detoxifying from drugs. Some degree of insomnia at the outset is therefore inevitable. 

Very often when patients report that they did not sleep at all we find this usually means that they dozed, or slept fitfully but did not feel refreshed. Nursing Staff will reassure you that it is usual to have some interference with sleep during detoxification and this will improve.

When insomnia is mild or moderate, it is preferable for patients to use non-drug methods of resolving insomnia. When insomnia is very severe we may prescribe a hypnotic for a brief period to restore normal sleep patterns. Before recommending the prescribing of mood altering medication our nurses will verify insomnia by undertaking a check on sleep pattern for three nights.

Natural Solutions

Our staff will help you to anticipate what to expect during withdrawal and equip you with some useful, natural strategies to deal with insomnia:

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to increase sleep time, fall asleep faster, and feel more rested in the morning. They require a minimum of 20 minutes before going to bed. There are many different techniques outlined further in another pamphlet, but they include:


Imagining a relaxing scene. Try it in bed before falling asleep. Involve all your senses and free your mind from negative thoughts. If you’re imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin, imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, listen to the waves.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Helps to free the brain of thoughts that disturb sleep.


Combines deep breathing, meditation, and stretching. A Harvard study found that daily yoga for eight weeks improved total sleep time. 

Avoid Daytime Naps

Sleeping during the day will disturb your nighttime sleep pattern.


Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, free from artificial stimulants to restore nervous system functioning. Avoid sugary snacks around bedtime as this leads to uneven blood sugar levels which disrupt sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes sleep. Carbohydrate snacks such wholegrain crackers or bananas before bedtime raise the levels of tryptophan and may help calm the brain.

Relaxation Music

Listening to calming music helps to relax the mind before sleep. Ask the nurses for a CD or iPod to listen to our specially chosen relaxation music.


The scent of lavender has long been used to help people fall asleep and research is starting to confirm its sedative qualities. Lavender works quickly and has been found to lengthen total sleep time and increase deep sleep. Lavender sachets and essential oils are available from the medical centre. A session of aromatherapy may be advised.


Exercise promotes deep sleep and counteracts muscle tension and stress which build up in the body. If you have difficulty sleeping we will advise you to go for a brisk walk or jog during the day. Don’t exercise just before bedtime.


Acupuncture has been demonstrated in a number of studies to aid sleep and is one of the alternative therapies that we provide every week.

Avoid Caffeine

Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate. Consumption of herbal teas containing chamomile and lemon balm or hot milk drinks are helpful in promoting sleep.

Last updated & clinically assessed 26 February, 2020