How to Sleep During Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin may make users drowsy, but it can cause several sleep disorders. Those who use heroin experience a disrupted sleep cycle and sleep-disordered breathing. This may not improve until months after sobriety.

Last updated: June 10, 2019
Girl not sure about sleeping

Why you can’t sleep on Heroin

Many people assume that heroin aids sleep, as it makes people feel incredibly drowsy. However, this is not the case. Heroin users may feel lethargic, but they are unable to get quality sleep. Here are a few ways that heroin affects sleep:

  • Disrupted sleep cycle: Heroin use makes it much harder for people to enter into deep sleep and completely blocks the REM sleep stage. This means that their minds and bodies are not able to be refreshed and they are likely unable to dream.

  • Onset of sleeping disorders: Sleep apnea is an extremely common sleeping disorder experienced by those who use opioids, like heroin. Sleep apnea is when breathing starts and stops. If untreated, sleep apnea can be extremely dangerous.

  • Sleep-disordered breathing: There is a strong link between sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea and heavy snoring, and opioids.

  • Poor sleep quality: Because heroin users are constantly in a state of light sleep, their sleep is very poor quality. It is not regenerative, rejuvenating, or refreshing at all.

  • Insomnia: In a study conducted by UCLA, people addicted to heroin produced 50% more narcolepsy-fighting neurons than those who didn’t use heroin. This is a leading factor as to why heroin users find it so hard to fall asleep- despite being exhausted. Insomnia is one of the most common side effects of both heroin use and heroin withdrawal.

How heroin affects the different levels of sleep

There are five stages of sleep.

Stages 1-4 are considered non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and stage 5 is considered rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Stages 1 and 2 are meant to be light sleep, while stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep, and stage 5 (REM sleep) is deep and regenerative.

Heroin use mostly affects stages 3, 4, and 5.

When using heroin, it’s hard for the body to drift into deep sleep, which means that the majority of sleep a user experiences is light sleep.

This can be particularly dangerous because deep sleep is the most important phase of sleep. During deep sleep, the body repairs itself, builds muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

Heroin use also completely blocks REM sleep from occurring. REM sleep is when the body is most at rest, the brain is most active, and dreaming occurs.

How heroin affects dreaming

Heroin users have different experiences when it comes to dreaming.

For most, dreaming is a rare occurrence.

This is because heroin use blocks REM sleep, which is the sleep stage where dreaming is meant to occur. However, some heroin users report having disturbing dreams while “high” on the drug.

This may be due to being in a near constant state of light sleep, which can be disorienting for the brain.

How withdrawal from heroin affects sleep

Withdrawal from heroin can be quite intense.

The first couple of days are going to be rough!

Insomnia is one of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms. Most former heroin addicts say that the first and second days of sobriety were the worst in terms of sleep. Sleep quality is likely to be poor for the first few months, although it’s likely that you will have some good sleep on occasion.

Responses for decreased sleep quality

 MilestoneTotalYesPercent
 1 days70
47
67%
 2 days89
48
53%
 3 days102
27
26%
 4 days119
41
34%
 5 days131
26
19%
 6 days108
24
22%
 7 days138
28
20%
 10 days150
28
18%
 2 weeks175
24
13%
 3 weeks173
28
16%
 25 days197
26
13%
 1 months213
28
13%
 5 weeks216
26
12%
 6 weeks230
15
6%
 50 days286
25
8%
 2 months307
34
11%
 10 weeks288
30
10%

Sleep will eventually improve during heroin withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal symptoms - especially insomnia - tend to last quite long. Most people who got sober from heroin didn’t notice a marked improvement in their sleep quality until a couple of months into their sobriety.

It’s likely that your sleep quality will feel like a bit of a roller coaster for the first few months. There will be days of good sleep and days of bad sleep.

However, after the two month mark, you’re likely to experience good quality sleep for the vast majority of the time.

Responses for improved sleep quality

 MilestoneTotalYesPercent
 1 days70
4
5%
 2 days89
18
20%
 3 days102
37
36%
 4 days119
44
36%
 5 days131
51
38%
 6 days108
42
38%
 7 days138
69
50%
 10 days150
82
54%
 2 weeks175
101
57%
 3 weeks173
107
61%
 25 days197
122
61%
 1 months213
147
69%
 5 weeks216
146
67%
 6 weeks230
159
69%
 50 days286
186
65%
 2 months307
216
70%
 10 weeks288
194
67%

How to sleep during withdrawal

If you are currently detoxing from heroin, it’s likely that you will struggle to get a good night’s sleep for the first several months of your sobriety. While there is no avoiding this withdrawal symptom, there are ways to make it less intense. Here are some helpful tips to improve your sleep quality in sobriety:

  • Cut out caffeine after 3pm: Caffeine is a stimulant. It will keep you feeling awake and energized and can stay in your system for hours after consumed. To ensure optimal sleep quality, don’t drink any caffeine after 3pm. This should give your body enough time to flush the caffeine out of your system before you go to sleep. If this doesn’t help aid sleep, cut out caffeine entirely.

  • Eliminate screen time before bed: The blue light emitted from televisions, laptops, and cell phones can make it harder to fall asleep. Try to stop viewing any screens for at least two hours before you go to bed.

  • Stop napping: In order to get good sleep, your body needs to be properly tired.

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day: This can help your body get used to your routine. If you follow this method, you will eventually begin to get tired at the same time every night, which can help improve sleep quality.

  • Talk to your doctor about a melatonin supplement: Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland that helps aid sleep. However, former drug use can mean that you are left with lower than average levels of melatonin. Taking a melatonin supplement can help your body restore its natural circadian rhythm

  • Reduce alcohol consumption: While alcohol has been known to help people fall asleep fast, it is also linked with decreased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the last stage in our sleep cycle and is absolutely crucial for our well being because it’s when we dream. If you want to get better sleep, reduce your alcohol consumption and avoid it entirely before bed.

  • Exercise regularly: Daytime exercise has a plethora of benefits. However, it can also help you feel more tired at night because it reduces body temperature and decreases anxiety.

  • Try melatonin: This doesn’t work for everyone, but melatonin is an over-the-counter alternative that can temporarily help you.

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