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Sleep problems persist, but there’s still hope for recovering alcoholics, new study finds

Sleep was an issue at the beginning for “Joe,” a recovering alcoholic from Evanston, but two years and nine months down the line, instead of drinking to pass out, he sleeps through the night.

“Now it’s a pleasure to live. That’s what motivated me,” said Joe, who asked that his real name be withheld.

Joe’s sleeping problem isn’t unusual in alcoholics. A study published Thursday in the journal Sleep, found that trouble with sleep while recovering can be equally difficult for both men and women, even two years into sobriety. Not sleeping can then lead to other problems, researchers said.

“Sleep problems are ubiquitous when drinking is a problem,” said Ian Colrain, director of the SRI International Human Sleep Research Program in Menlo Park, Calif. “Trouble sleeping is a common reason people relapse into drinking.”

Colrain’s federally funded study showed both men and women recovering alcoholics have less deep sleep and therefore poorer sleep quality than non-alcoholics, even two years after their last drink. The study also found that an increase of REM sleep, the stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement and dreaming, continued beyond the first stages of recovery.

“These long-term effects indicate changes in brain structure that lead to persistent problems,” Colrain said.
Recovering alcoholics who have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep must resist using alcohol as a sleep aid. It will take time, but sleep will get better.

Steven Hart, director of Hazeldon’s Chicago location, a nationally operated outpatient rehabilitation center, advised recovering alcoholics to learn how to relax with new stress management techniques. He said even common solutions including drinking warm milk and avoiding coffee, smoking and napping should help.

“Pay attention to your new sleep habits,” Hart said. “Eventually you will get back to normal sleep, but sometimes sleep patterns are permanently altered.

To anyone struggling with an alcohol addiction, Joe says, “Give yourself a chance. In the beginning, there’s a fear that I was either going to die as an alcoholic or live as an alcoholic. Now I’m a recovering alcoholic and I didn’t know that was possible.”

source: Medill Reports

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