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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sleep Disruption

There is a common problem with recovering addicts: sleep disruption.  Many alcoholics endure countless hours of insomnia in early recovery, and panic over their inability to either fall asleep or stay that way.

Many monasteries operate on a two resting period schedule: sleep after Compline (from somewhere around midnight and ending very early in the morning), then a second period of rest during the day.  For some monks, it isn't enough: I've visited monasteries where some monks doze off during services, and I recall several Orthros services punctuated by a snoring monk in the litia.  I certainly would have a difficult time with the schedule most of them keep.

Due to the adjustment of biochemistry that goes on when addicts abandon their chemicals, insomnia and other problems naturally occur.  It should be no surprise.  In dealing with the newly sober, it is important to prepare them for this phenomenon and to let them know that it will eventually settle down.  However, we should also prepare some of them for having to deal with an ongoing 'irregular sleep pattern.'

This article was posted yesterday on the BBC, which gives insight into pre-modern sleep patterns:

Rather than a long, 8-hour sleep, earlier European peoples usually slept in several segments.  This is still done in the Mediterranean.

Many addicts get anxious about waking at night, and the article discusses the problem when this anxiety kicks in and the fear of not getting enough sleep ends up keeping us awake.  We ought to embrace this waking period.  Certainly, we should not get upset about it.

One of the problems with our society nowadays is that it is overly structured: humans are forced more and more into absolute rhythms that deviance from has immediate repercussions.  If you are late to work or school, there are consequences.  Certainly, this is understandable.

But, it is also the cause of a great deal of anxiety, and it is this anxiety that very often causes people to turn to chemicals for help in 'regulating' their bodies (we've all heard the motto: 'Living Better Through Chemistry') when the body refuses to fit into the social structures of work, family, and school.  Many addicts begin their journey trying to shut off their heads with a bottle of whiskey or a few pills so they can catch those ever-necessary 'forty winks.'

So, part of the problem is cultural: our high-stress lives coupled with unhealthy living habits (too many relationships and communications means, like cell phones, chat, and email) leads to excess anxiety, which again impinges on our sleep.  In addition to accepting the fact that sometimes our bodies don't want to fit into the schedules our minds have decided upon, we should also realize that a high-emotional-activity lifestyle will also effect sleep.  This is what is happening with teens who can't stay off their cell phones and computers, then don't get to sleep  until after midnight.

We do need to slow down and stop living in unhealthy lifestyles, and this includes chemical dependency.  We would do well to better understand our bodies rather than constantly trying to 'treat' them so that they will fit into patterns that perhaps they are not suited for.  Sleep patterns should be included.

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