Opiate withdrawal is uncomfortable, painful, and often unbearable, especially for someone who is experiencing extreme symptoms. Heroin can produce symptoms so intense that people will continue to abuse it even when they do not feel the euphoric effects anymore just so that they can avoid the withdrawal symptoms.
One of these symptoms is insomnia. When a person is dealing with sleep disturbances during opiate withdrawal, it can make the syndrome itself even more uncomfortable and difficult to get through. Here are some tips for coping with insomnia from opiate withdrawal.
What is Insomnia as Part of the Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome?
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, insomnia can include one or more of the following sleep disturbances:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Waking too early in the morning
- Waking frequently throughout the night
- Sleep that is chronically no restorative or poor
For someone dealing with opiate withdrawal, any of these types of insomnia can manifest, and a person may deal with more than one during their time in withdrawal. For most individuals, opiate withdrawal can last about a week or more, during which time insomnia can make the entire process much more difficult.
People often experience flu-like symptoms, muscle and bone pain, and frequent diarrhea and vomiting which can all add to an individual’s inability to sleep properly. Anxiety and depression, as other symptoms of opiate withdrawal, may keep the individual up as well. Overall, a person may feel fatigued from the difficulty of what they are going through but just be unable to sleep.
During this time, rest is what the individual needs most so insomnia during opiate withdrawal can be very frustrating and detrimental. That is why many individuals are looking for ways to cope with this issue specifically.
Ways of Coping with Insomnia from Opiate Withdrawal
First and foremost, medications can be extremely beneficial in treating symptoms of opiate withdrawal, including insomnia. There are several medications which can minimize the impact of withdrawal symptoms from opiate drugs including:
- Helpful in treating anxiety, muscle aches, cramping, and agitation, possibly making it easier for the individual to sleep (NLM)
- Marketed as either buprenorphine alone (Subutex) or buprenorphine and naloxone (Suboxone)
- Helps minimize withdrawal symptoms by acting as an opioid would on the brain but in lower, safer doses
- Also minimizes withdrawal symptoms in a similar way to buprenorphine
The National Drug Strategy states that individuals who experience an intense amount of withdrawal while already on buprenorphine may want to consult their doctors about another possible treatment. “Buprenorphine provides general relief of withdrawal symptoms, so that other symptomatic medications for opioid withdrawal are not routinely required. An exception is when patients experience difficulty sleeping during withdrawal, and may benefit from the limited use of benzodiazepines as a hypnotic.”
There are several types of medications which may be useful in treating insomnia during opiate withdrawal or other symptoms which are also occurring and intensifying the insomnia itself.
Over-the-Counter and Herbal Remedies
There are over-the-counter sleeping aids that can often be taken to help individuals struggling with insomnia. If you feel that one of these sleep aids may help you, talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking one. Certain brands or ingredients may be harmful in your condition so it is important to discuss it with your doctor before taking a specific medication, but some could be helpful as well.
Also there are many herbal remedies for insomnia including teas, Valerian root, lemon balm, and so on. Even when you are taking an alternative supplement or herbal treatment for an issue like insomnia during opiate withdrawal, you should still consult your doctor. You cannot be sure how a certain product is going to affect you, especially during such a difficult time, so make sure that you ask your doctor if any of these specific alternative treatments could be detrimental to you before taking them.
Have a Sleepover
It might sound silly, but staying with friends and family members can make it much easier for you to sleep properly. You will feel less lonely and less like there is something to worry about when the people you love are surrounding you. If you can, stay with someone or have them stay with you for more than a week so that you are not alone during the most difficult time of your withdrawal.
Rest & Fluids
During this time, you will likely be told to rest as much as possible and to stay hydrated. These are very important during withdrawal from opiates because “the symptoms of opioid withdrawal have been likened to a severe influenza infection” or being very similar to the flu (NIDA). With the vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, and body aches that occur, people are often told to stay in bed and drink lots of fluids, as they would be told during the flu.
However, it is important to follow the rules of beating insomnia too, which sometimes intertwine with those of caring for your flu-like symptoms.
- “Avoid fluids just before bedtime” (UMM).
- Drink lots of water except about an hour before you’re about to go to bed.
- “Move to another room with dim lighting if sleep does not occur after spending 15-20 minutes in bed.”
- Take a hot bath before you are ready to go to bed, usually about “2 hours before” in order to slow your body down.
- Avoid caffeine
Other Tips for Coping with Insomnia from Opiate Withdrawal
- Exercise lightly, but do not do so right before trying to fall asleep.
- If you’re going to watch TV, keep it light and funny, nothing sad or upsetting (especially right before you’re ready to sleep).
- If you normally can’t sleep without leaving the TV on, try a white noise machine instead.
- Read a book before you go to bed instead of watching TV.
- Write down your progress through your withdrawal in a journal. That way, you may have fewer thoughts keeping you up when you try to lie down.
- Use a heating pad on your cramps and body aches before bed.
Insomnia can be one of the most difficult parts of opiate withdrawal. Use these tips to help get the rest you need.