Learn / Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia: Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia: Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Kayla Gill
 April 12th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Alcohol withdrawal can trigger bodily responses including sleep disruption.
  • Insomnia is usually worse in the first few days and improves over the next few weeks.
  • These evidence-backed tips can help you regulate your sleep cycle and get some rest.

Trying to quit drinking and can’t sleep? You’re certainly not the only one. Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is a sleep disruption caused by the brain’s adaptation to alcohol. It leads to anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, and restless nights—and it’s highly common among people who just quit drinking.

Fortunately, there are proven ways to manage these symptoms and promote restful sleep while your body is withdrawing from alcohol. This guide explores science-backed strategies to help you manage withdrawal symptoms, calm your nervous system, and get the rest you deserve.

Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Insomnia?

Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is a result of alcohol’s effects on your brain’s sleep-wake regulatory systems.1 

Chemical messengers in your brain, like GABA and glutamate, play crucial roles in regulating sleep. When you start drinking, alcohol mimics the effects of GABA and makes you feel sleepy. But when you drink regularly over time, your brain adapts to alcohol. As a result, it produces less of—and becomes less sensitive to—these important sleep chemicals. 

Once your brain and body have gotten used to the regular presence of alcohol, you’re alcohol-dependent. And once dependence sets in, suddenly stopping drinking can cause a number of reactions. For most people, these include anxiety, agitation, and difficulty falling or staying asleep. It’s possible to become dependent on alcohol within weeks or sometimes even days of use.

If this is the case for you, you’re not alone. Research shows that 36-91% of people with alcohol addiction have insomnia.2 So how long can you expect these symptoms to last, and what can you do about it?

How Long Does Withdrawal Insomnia Last?

The struggle with withdrawal insomnia can feel like an eternity—but rest assured, it’s not forever. The duration varies, and depends on factors like the severity of dependence, your metabolism, and underlying health conditions. In general, symptoms are the worst in the first few days of alcohol detox,3 and usually improve over the course of the next few weeks. 

Sleep disturbances might last a while longer. Withdrawal insomnia “may last for weeks to months4 after initiating abstinence from alcohol,” says researcher Kirk J. Brower at University of Michigan Addiction Research Center. While individual experiences differ, keep in mind that this is a temporary hurdle on your path to recovery. 

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How to Get Sleep During Alcohol Withdrawal

The good news is that you’re not powerless to change your situation. Several evidence-based strategies can help you manage withdrawal symptoms, promote relaxation, and finally get to sleep.

Set and Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule

Aim for the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends, to regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle.5 Think of it as training your inner clock for smoother sleep transitions. This regularity helps your body anticipate sleep, making it easier to drift off and wake up feeling rested. Consistency is key, so stick to your schedule as much as possible.

Create a Calming Bedtime Routine

Start your wind-down ritual about an hour before bedtime. You may need to experiment to find what works for you, but it may include the following: 

  • Taking a warm shower or path 
  • Reading a book 
  • Stretching or gentle yoga 
  • Listening to relaxing music, frequencies, or nature sounds 

This dedicated relaxation time signals to your mind and body that it’s time to sleep. Establishing a normal circadian rhythm improves your sleep quality and reduces the withdrawal-induced restlessness that keeps you tossing and turning. 

Optimize Your Sleep Environment

Make your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet for optimal sleep conditions. This might include investing in a comfortable mattress—and if you’re sensitive to light and sound, blackout curtains or earplugs.

Most people sleep better in cooler temperatures, around 65°F, though this can vary per individual. Avoid screens for at least an hour before sleep,6 as their blue light emission suppresses melatonin production and disrupts sleep cycles.

Limit Daytime Naps

While napping might seem like the answer to your fatigue, moderation is crucial during alcohol withdrawal. Short (20-30 minute) naps early in the day can boost your energy in the afternoon without disrupting your nighttime sleep cycle. But longer naps or napping close to bedtime can backfire, leaving you feeling even more restless at night. 

Avoid Caffeine 

While the urge to reach for a cup of coffee during withdrawal might be strong, caffeinated drinks can worsen your sleep struggles. Caffeine acts on the nervous system,7 increasing alertness and anxiety and making it harder to sleep. Opt for herbal teas, decaf coffee, natural juices, or water to support your body’s detox process and minimize disruptions during this challenging period.

Exercise Regularly

Although working out might seem counterintuitive during withdrawal, regular exercise can significantly improve your sleep quality. Aim for moderate-intensity workouts like brisk walking or swimming most days of the week, but avoid stimulating activity close to bedtime. 

Exercise regulates your natural sleep-wake cycle8 and reduces withdrawal-related anxiety. Listen to your body, start slow, and gradually increase intensity as you feel stronger.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Anxiety and agitation—hallmarks of alcohol withdrawal—can work against your efforts to rest. Fortunately, a number of relaxation techniques can help you let go of what’s been troubling you throughout the day:

These simple yet profound practices encourage stillness, reduce nervous system activity, and prepare your body for sleep. Don’t be afraid to explore different techniques to find what works best for you.

Get Professional Support 

If you’re dependent on alcohol, it’s important to detox under medical supervision. Detoxing on your own can be dangerous. Medical professionals can help you manage alcohol withdrawal and insomnia, and set you up for success in recovery.

After detox, it’s a good idea to follow up with comprehensive addiction treatment to address what’s driving your addiction. Most residential rehab programs treat sleep hygiene as a core component of their programming, especially in early recovery. They can also connect you with resources like support groups (12-Step and non-12-Step) to support your long-term recovery. 

How Long Until Sleep Returns to Normal After Quitting Alcohol?

Most people’s sleep patterns gradually improve in the weeks following detox. Some people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, which can last for several months. 

While the withdrawal period can be frustrating, this temporary hurdle shouldn’t deter you from your recovery journey. By seeking professional support and allowing your body time to heal, you can navigate this challenge and reclaim your right to rest.

Find Resources for Alcohol Treatment

For alcohol-dependent people, recovery starts with detox. Search our list of alcohol detox centers to find a program that matches your needs, and reach out directly today. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia

Can you go to rehab for insomnia caused by alcohol withdrawal?

Yes, rehab for insomnia during alcohol withdrawal is beneficial. Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is a common challenge, and rehab programs offer evidence-based strategies to manage symptoms. With a focus on sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and comprehensive addiction treatment, rehab provides professional support for a successful recovery journey.

How long does alcohol withdrawal insomnia last, and can rehab help?

The duration of alcohol withdrawal insomnia varies but typically improves over a few weeks. Rehab is instrumental in managing this condition, offering structured support, setting regular sleep schedules, and incorporating relaxation techniques. Professional guidance ensures a safe and effective strategy for overcoming withdrawal-induced sleep disruptions.

Can lifestyle changes improve sleep during alcohol withdrawal?

Yes, lifestyle changes significantly impact sleep quality during alcohol withdrawal. Setting a consistent sleep schedule, creating a calming bedtime routine, optimizing your sleep environment, limiting daytime naps, avoiding caffeine, exercising regularly, and practicing relaxation techniques can help. These adjustments, often emphasized in rehab programs, contribute to a smoother recovery process.

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