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Sleep complications in recovery

Getting enough sleep is a critical part of building a healthy lifestyle for yourself. Without proper rest, both your physical and mental health are likely to suffer. Sleep issues are more common among people with mental health conditions – an estimated 50-80% of psychiatric patients have chronic sleep difficulties, compared to just 10-18% of the general population. Even if you didn’t face sleep challenges during the peak of your symptoms, you may experience some of the following as you go through recovery:

  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep, waking up multiple times each night
  • Trouble waking up
  • Extreme tiredness during the day
  • Vivid dreams

Ideally, working on your mental health recovery will help you get better sleep – and better sleep can then boost your mental well-being. Like most things, this is easier said than done. Recovery also comes with some challenges that might make it hard to get proper rest, especially in the early stages of your recovery.

Poor Sleep Hygiene

”Sleep hygiene” refers to your sleeping environment, routines, and other habits – like sleeping with background noise or light, excessive napping or time spent in bed, irregular sleep and wake times, or stimulating activity before bed. Poor mental health contributes to poor sleep hygiene, and the habits you create because of it can be hard to break, even once your mental health starts to rebound. You might not even realize that you have poor sleep hygiene because many effects (like irritability and trouble concentrating) may feel more connected to your mental health than your sleep.

Medication and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

Most mental health medications interrupt the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. REM sleep plays an important role in emotional processing, memory consolidation, brain development, and preparing your body for daytime alertness. Some research has also found REM sleep to help people recover from stressful events. Not getting enough REM sleep can negatively affect your memory, mood, and judgment.

Emotional Exhaustion

Let’s face it – healing is tiring. Dealing with your mental health symptoms is usually much more painful than recovery, but recovery is hard work. Lots of big emotions can come up as you start to feel better and reflect on your mental health condition and any recent episodes. These feelings might keep you up at night with spiraling thoughts and/or leave you exhausted and detached during the day.

Tips for Improving Sleep

Look at your sleep hygiene.

Many aspects of life can impact your sleep habits, like caring for children, work schedules, or other health conditions. Your approach to sleep hygiene may need to be unique to your lifestyle, but there are some general strategies to keep in mind:

  • Maintain regular sleep and wake times if possible (yes, even on the weekends!)
  • Seek out natural sunlight in the mornings – take a walk or sit by a window
  • Get regular exercise during the day to expend energy
  • Consider reducing overall caffeine intake to one serving per day
  • Avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, exercise, and electronic devices right before bed
  • Incorporate healthy ways to unwind into a bedtime routine, like journaling or meditating
  • Make your sleeping environment cool, dark, and quiet

Talk to your doctor.

For some people, sleep-related side effects of medication are mild and go away on their own in a few weeks. For others, side effects can be so severe that they disrupt a person’s life. Everyone responds differently to medication, and your doctor can help you figure out what’s right for you. You may be able to change when you take your medication, switch to a new drug, or find another solution.