Learn About Sleep Disorders and Their Close Ties to Substance Abuse

Sleep disorders are extremely common in the United States. According to a study performed by the Institute of Medicine, approximately 50 to 70 million Americans currently struggle with a sleep or wakefulness disorder.

While sleep disorders may seem rather innocuous, the reality is that stable sleeping patterns are critical to an individual’s health. Consistent sleep schedules are a matter of public health, as well. Data collected by the National Department of Transportation suggests that drowsy driving alone is responsible for hundreds of fatalities each year.

The health risks associated with sleep disorders are greatly exacerbated when the patient is also abusing drugs or alcohol. In cases where patients use drugs or alcohol to manage a sleep disorder, these individuals can become trapped in a vicious cycle of unreliable sleep patterns and self-medication.

Interactions between sleep disorders and substance use disorder can be unpredictable. That’s why awareness about the two mental health problems, as well as how to treat them simultaneously, is so important.

Exploring the Different Types of Sleep Disorders

Generally speaking, humans tend to fall asleep in the evening and wake up in the morning, and throughout the night they move through various phases of sleep. Some sleep phases are deeper and more restorative than others, while others involve increased brain activity and dreaming.

The natural cycle of deep sleep and dreaming is referred to as a “circadian rhythm,” and most sleep disorders are related to disruptions of those patterns.

Beyond causing unwanted changes to the body’s natural sleep patterns, the types of sleep disorders and their symptoms are quite varied. Each disorder carries its own set of symptoms and, if left untreated, can negatively affect the individual’s daily life.


Statistics for Sleep DisordersInsomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by an individual’s inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some individuals experience erratic insomnia, while others experience sleeplessness on a routine basis.

While inconvenient, insomnia is among the most benign sleep disorders. Individuals with high anxiety or depression are among those who are most at risk for this disorder.

Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Extended periods of lying awake at night
  • Short, insufficient bursts of sleep
  • Inability to stay asleep or return to sleep
  • Inability to feel rested even after a night’s sleep

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea describes abnormal breathing patterns that occur while the individual is sleeping. The symptoms of sleep apnea can range from limited air flow and snoring to periods of time where the individual stops breathing for several minutes.

In some cases, sleep apnea can be fatal. Heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure are at high risk for this disorder.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Momentary cessation of breathing during sleep
  • Abruptly waking up and feeling short of breath
  • Drowsiness throughout the day
  • Emotional irritability


Narcolepsy is commonly referenced as a punchline in popular culture, but the real condition can put individuals in serious danger. The disorder is characterized by chronic patterns of sudden exhaustion and drowsiness throughout the day. This drowsiness can also be accompanied by muscle weakness.

If untreated, this disorder can put patients at serious risk for an accident or injury. Individuals with diabetes and certain thyroid problems are at high risk for this disorder.

Symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • Chronic drowsiness during the daytime
  • Sudden onset of cataplexy (strong emotion or laughter that causes a person to collapse, but remain conscious)
  • Inability to move or speak while falling asleep

The Link Between Sleep Disorders and Substance Abuse

It’s not uncommon for individuals to develop a substance use disorder in response to a sleep disorder. When a person seeks immediate relief from a sleep disorder, he or she may choose to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs as a way to cope and get to sleep. Unfortunately, these individuals will soon find that self-medicating will only make it harder to get to sleep without using drugs or alcohol.

It is also common for individuals to develop a sleep disorder in response to their ongoing substance abuse. When people use drugs to stay up late, their patterns of sleep are constantly in flux and they may soon find it difficult to fall asleep at all.

In worst-case scenarios, sleep and substance use disorders interact with deadly consequences. For example, a person who abuses opioid painkillers may experience respiratory depression as a side effect. If that person is already diagnosed with sleep apnea, there is a chance that these two types of breathing obstacles could exacerbate one another and put the individual in mortal danger.

Receiving Treatment for a Sleep Disorder and Addiction

At The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village, we recognize that every one of our clients is unique and requires personalized treatment. Our goal is to address both the substance use and sleep disorder simultaneously. Throughout the recovery process, patients who struggle with sleep disorders will learn a variety of stress relief and relaxation techniques that can help them achieve better sleep every night.

Sleep is crucial to a healthy life, and we want every one of our residents to cultivate a healthier, substance-free future. Learn more now by calling The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village at (866) 295-6003.

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