Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia: How Long Do Sleep Issues Last?

Alcohol withdrawal insomnia may affect your brain chemistry and REM sleep patterns. Treatment for this condition includes sleep restriction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


When someone suddenly stops drinking alcohol, mild to severe withdrawal symptoms may ensue. These symptoms can be physical or psychological in nature and may require medical attention depending on the severity.

One such issue is alcohol withdrawal insomnia. This condition occurs once your body has built up a dependence on alcohol and alcohol use suddenly stops, affecting sleep habits.

Chronic insomnia is a relatively common result of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as headache, fever, vomiting, and intense cravings.

How Alcohol Withdrawal Affects Sleep

A reported 25 to 75 percent of people undergoing treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) had insomnia symptoms and poor sleep during alcohol withdrawal.

Sleep issues may include sleep apnea, insomnia, non-restorative sleep, and more. Some of these issues may only last a few days or weeks, while others may take months or years to fully subside.

Effects On REM Sleep

Research shows that one of the most harmful effects that alcohol has on sleep is its tendency to reduce the amount of REM (rapid eye movement), or deep sleep, the body gets.

Getting enough REM sleep is essential for quality of life and quality sleep. Without it, people may have an increased risk for mental and physical health problems.

Effects On Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

The main role of GABA neurotransmitters is to regulate the nervous system in the body. Alcohol harms the production of GABA, and may lead to physical, emotional , and mental health damage.

Over time, diminished GABA production may greatly affect a person’s sleep cycle and exacerbate any pre-existing mental health disorders.

Non-Restorative Sleep

During the alcohol detox process, people in recovery may take a long time to fall asleep and have a hard time staying asleep throughout the night.

Awakening throughout the night and non-restorative sleep is a major risk factor for addiction relapse, and is also one of the last cycles to return to normal after prolonged alcohol abuse.

How Long Sleep Issues Related To Alcohol Withdrawal May Last

There is no standard amount of time that sleep issues last during alcohol withdrawal. Moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms typically last 72 hours and slowly dissipate in the days and weeks after.

Sleep disturbances may continue with the occurrence of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS symptoms may last months or even years after acute withdrawal has passed.

Treatment For Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia

People with alcohol withdrawal insomnia have several options for treatment. The effectiveness of these treatments is dependent on the severity of addiction and pre-existing physical or mental disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep disorders, or CBT-I, is a type of therapy that focuses on how we think, the things we do, and how it affects sleep quality.

CBT-I helps to identify the feelings and behavior that contribute to insomnia. Treatment typically lasts six to eight sessions or longer, but may differ based on a person’s needs.

Sleep Restriction

Oftentimes people with insomnia will spend much of their time in bed lying awake unable to sleep. Sleep restriction limits the time a person with sleep difficulties spends in bed.

Sleep restriction may help increase the drive to sleep, but may also increase fatigue during the day. Once the majority of time spent in bed is sleeping, the time in bed can be gradually increased.

Sleep Medications

In some cases, sleep aid medications may be prescribed for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal insomnia.

Drugs to treat insomnia may include:

  • benzodiazepines
  • antidepressants such as trazodone
  • eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • zolpidem (Ambien)
  • melatonin
  • over the counter sleeping pills that contain antihistamines

While sleep medications may help immensely to regulate sleep, they are not intended for long-term use. Side effects often include daytime drowsiness, dizziness, diarrhea, and more.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the practice of optimizing your sleep schedule to put yourself in an advantageous position to sleep well every night.

Good sleep hygiene may include having a fixed wake-up time, avoiding disruptions at sleep time, limiting caffeine intake and other stimulants, and limiting naps during the day.

Additional Treatment Services For Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol addiction treatment will help put you or your loved one on the path to long-term recovery from substance use disorders.

Treatment options may include:

An evidence-based treatment program is an essential step in the alcohol recovery process, and will help avoid a potential medical emergency from the effects of alcohol withdrawal.

Find Substance Abuse Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

Call Bedrock Recovery Center today for more information about alcohol consumption and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Our inpatient treatment center will provide the evidence-based care you need to overcome sleep problems and other issues related to substance abuse.

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  2. National Institute of Health (NIH)
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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