When I stopped drinking, I had strange, repetitive dreams — like planes crashing around me and not breaking — and I woke up frequently in the middle of the night.
Like many folks in early recovery, I struggled with depression. I stayed up late and craved alcohol when I should’ve been sleeping. I felt exhausted and outside of work, I spent most of my time alone, hanging onto what energy I did have like a sponge.
COVID-19 isolation was the incentive I needed to take my sleep habits more seriously. Creating a nighttime routine has improved my energy, and I feel more empowered to take better care of myself. It’s not perfect, but it’s one I can stick to.
So, here’s a bit of guidance for sleeping better during recovery. And, to help organize your bedtime ritual, try my guide at the end of this article. Let’s create a more sustainable nighttime routine starting tonight!
Why good sleep matters in early recovery
Your previous night’s sleep can change the entire course of your day, and if mistreated long enough, nature will slow your body down for you. Mark Wu, M.D, Ph.D, a sleep disorder specialist and neurology professor at Johns Hopkins, explains, “Your body can’t force you to eat when you’re hungry, but when you’re tired, it can put you to sleep, even if you’re in a meeting or behind the wheel of a car.”
Sleep is a lot like water: the body needs it to function, and works better when we have enough. In early recovery, though, it’s common to experience disruptive sleep patterns. Our worries tend to magnify when alcohol cannot distract us, especially if we’re used to drinking before bed.
Adjust your beliefs about rest
During recovery, it’s common to exchange one unhealthy habit for another. Personally, as a longtime night owl, I’m slowly breaking the curse of being illuminated in the dark by my laptop.
In order to adjust any of my unhealthy nighttime habits, I had to reframe what I believed about rest. For example, rest can look like any of the following, and always leads to a good night’s sleep for me:
1. Calling someone I trust
I love phone calls. If it’s getting late and I need an ear, I know who I can talk to for support. These are folks I’m closest to, and after years of friendship, they know how to ease what stress I’m spewing over the phone. I always feel relieved and ready for bed.
2. Listening to meditative singing bowls
I found this Tibetan singing bowl video years ago, and it’s a fail-proof resource when I really can’t sleep. It’s nine hours long, so it can accompany you through a full night’s rest, or if you’re working from home and want a soothing space during the day.
3. Adjusting my room temperature
Keeping a level head goes out the window when my body is too hot. A hot room interrupts your sleep stages and your body’s natural cooling process. On the other end of the spectrum, a room that’s too cold isn’t great either. Oftentimes, too cold of a room simply makes it difficult to get to bed. So, finding what a balanced temperature looks for you is key. For me, the moment I cool down my bedroom a bit, I go from stressed to calm in a matter of minutes.
Make your nighttime routine stick
When I try something new, I like to think about what I’ll gain if I commit, fully. The same applies when creating a nighttime routine. I think about how much better I’ll feel if I get to bed just 15 minutes sooner than the night before.
When adjusting to new habits, it’s good to experiment, start simple, and settle on what feels right. If you’re looking for a little structure, see if my guide helps!
Set an alarm for 15 minutes. Answer the following five questions, and then reflect on healthy activities you can manage before bedtime. A few of my favorite activities are below.
August Sleep Questions
- How many hours of sleep do I get right now?
- What overall factors prevent me from getting better sleep?
- What would I like to do more often before bed?
- How would I like to feel before bed?
- How would I like to feel when I wake up?
Soothing Activities I Enjoy
- Prayer or meditation
- Playing my keyboard badly!
- Watching anime
Set another alarm for 15 minutes. List your sleep goals for the next month and create a plan for how you can achieve them. Check out my list for August:
August Sleep Goals
- Work toward long-term 10:30pm bedtime goal
- Detach from technology after 10:30pm
- Start journaling about my relationship to rest
August Sleep Challenge
- Fall asleep by 11:00pm from 8/4 to 8/7. (My current bedtime is 11:30pm.)
- During the same week, put my phone and computer in the closet by 10:30pm
- Journal about rest for 5 minutes everyday during the challenge
Record your experiences — any changes in mood, restfulness, or adverse effects — throughout August. You can keep a note on your phone or in a notebook and title it “My Nighttime Routine: August.” If daily upkeep sounds overwhelming, remember that one sentence counts, and one day, you’ll be looking back at your steady commitment to making long-term progress.
If my guide helps you regain control over your sleep regimen, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. With a structured plan, my hope is that your outlook for tomorrow looks clearer, calmer, and a lot more rested.