Withdrawal-induced insomnia: an A to Z list of tips
This A to Z list of tips for getting through withdrawal-induced insomnia and sleep problems has been put together with the invaluable help and feedback of many in the layperson psychiatric drug withdrawal community. TWP is indebted to all the wisdom that’s been shared with us by our friends!
Keep in mind that what works for some people may not work for others—or may even be further disrupting to some people. It’s crucial to always listen to one’s body when trying out a new modality or technique for help with sleep.
Please note, as well, that the resources on this list are not endorsed by TWP—we’re simply curating what’s been reported to be helpful from our friends in the broader community.
Many in the withdrawal community find accepting lack of sleep as simply a part of the withdrawal journey can help lessen the level of stress and worry. A few suggestions offered by others who’ve dealt with insomnia in withdrawal:
- “Just go with it until eventually your body breaks down and you sleep.”
- “Allow yourself to have sleepless nights without fretting.”
- “Don’t worry whether or not you’re asleep, or how quickly you fall asleep. Simply lay down with the thought that you’ll rest your body.”
- “Trust in your body’s ability to heal.”
- “Try the opposite of "radical acceptance"—just quietly accept that you can't sleep, and stay up until the tiredness overtakes you without stressing about it or resisting.”
Some people report acupuncture treatment for insomnia can be helpful. Click here to learn more.
Some find the rhythm and repetition of affirmations to be helpful in lulling them to sleep. You might consider coming up with a phrase or two and repeating it. Here are a few examples that were shared by others:
- I sleep deeply and dream of flying.
- I sleep deeply and dream of floating in space.
- I sleep deeply and dream of walking on the beach …or in the woods…or…
- I sleep deeply and dream of swimming with dolphins.
- My body and mind are healed and refreshed as I sleep.
- I sleep through the night with peaceful dreams.
- I sleep peacefully and wake refreshed.
- I sleep deeply and wake inspired.
- I sleep deeply and wake up energized.
When your mind wanders, just come back to your affirmation and keep repeating. If you get frustrated, just let the feeling go and come back to the affirmation.
Another friend of ours shared that during windows, she’d record her own voice on her phone saying reassuring and soothing things, as if she was talking to herself. She’d then play it back at night. She said this worked well to calm and sooth her. She reports, “I would tell myself that things seem worse in the middle of the night. This method was pretty good because I was aware of the issues and insecurities that would plague me during the night & so knew what I needed to tell myself. I also used these recordings during the day if I was particularly stressed or experiencing strong withdrawal emotions.”
Apps for sleep
There are a number of apps that people have reported to be helpful for sleep. You can search “sleep” in your app store or online, or try one of the apps below, which were recommended by folks in the withdrawal community (TWP hasn’t tested any of these apps, so this is not a TWP-endorsed list):
- Andrew Johnson has a number of apps for relaxation, sleep, and stress reduction. Apparently, some of his apps are available for free.
- Calm—especially the ‘Sleep Stories’ section.
- Meditation Oasis
- Pranayama (a breath app)
- Relax Melodies (Apparently, a free version is available.)
Some people report that listening to audiobooks can be a helpful way to help you fall asleep. People suggest listening to a story with a calming message, and perhaps even a calming voice.
Ayurveda has been helpful to some in the withdrawal community in aiding in restful sleep. However, be sure to do your own research in advance of trying any particular Ayurvedic remedies as they can be potent, and some of them contain psychoactive properties that may trigger or amplify withdrawal symptoms.
Bedroom adjustments and arrangements
People suggest a variety of different adjustments to the bedroom to help with sleep:
- Using blackout shades and thick curtains to keep the room dark
- Adjusting the temperature for comfort; some report that sleeping in a slightly chilly room can help make sleep easier
- Splurging on good bedding
- Trying a weighted blanket
- Keeping earplugs nearby if noise is a problem
- Avoiding bringing screens into bed (computer, phone, iPad, etc.)
- Turning off WiFi in/near the bedroom before sleep
A quick internet search yields countless numbers of books that are purported to help with sleep. In the withdrawal community, the following books have been suggested (TWP hasn’t read any of these books, so this is not a TWP-endorsed list):
- Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson
- The Sleep Book by Dr. Guy Meadows
- Effortless Sleep by Sasha Stephens
An internet search turns up a variety of soothing chants available on YouTube—some people report these can help You might try searching for soothing chants online to listen to when getting ready for sleep—some folks say these are especially relaxing.
"Doing what works"
At the end of the day, many have found that that they simply need to do whatever they have to do to help themselves get to sleep. For example, many of us have found in the most difficult late night hours of withdrawal-induced insomnia that doing things that might not commonly be considered to be “good sleep hygiene” were necessary—such as eating something satisfying, or watching a show in bed on a laptop.
A lot of people in withdrawal have also found that at certain points during the healing journey their sleep clocks shifted so significantly that they were staying up through much or all of the night and sleeping or napping during the day. People often say to each other in the lay withdrawal community that what matters most is sleeping whenever one can. Many have found that as time goes on and the body and brain continue to heal, the body’s sleep clock resolves itself.
Some people have found that Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)/Tapping can be helpful in getting to sleep.
Epsom salt baths
For some people, a warm bath with Epsom salts before bed can be a helpful way to ease anxiety, feel relaxed, and get the body ready for sleep.
Essential oils (and other oils)
We’ve heard from a number of people in the withdrawal community that particular essential oils and other oils have been helpful in getting them to sleep. They’ve described sprinkling essential oils on an eye pillow or regular pillow, putting a few drops in a diffuser in the bedroom, or massaging essential oils into the skin. Keep in mind that some people have sensitivities to certain oils—especially ones that have psychoactive properties—so be sure to do your own research in advance of trying a new oil out, and listen to your body. If you notice you’re overly sensitized to scents, you may want to skip this option.
Some of the essential oils that have been reported to be helpful include:
- Juniper berry
- Ylang Ylang
One person reported that massaging her feet, stomach, and temples with Banyan Sleep Easy Oil before bed was helpful. Another person described how rubbing castor oil on her face and feet before putting socks on and getting into bed was helpful.
Some people report that evening walks or gentle exercise can be an effective way to get to sleep, while others talk about how rigorous exercise during the day helps them fall to sleep better at night. But still others report that any exercise at all is too aggravating. It’s important to always listen to the body and pay attention to how it responds to particular activities. Some people opt to start with light exercise and build their way up to more moderate activities to see how the activity is tolerated. A few different exercises that people have found helpful for sleep include:
“Falling in love with sleep again”
Many of us in the darkest hours of withdrawal found that the very thought of having to be in the dark, in the silence, in our heads sent us into a near-panic, given how overwhelming the mind can be when grappling with difficult symptoms. One of our friends described how liberating it was for her to “fall in love with sleep again” after being so afraid of it for so long. Reminding oneself that sleep isn’t meant to be something scary or harmful, but rather is something healing and invigorating, can help make this shift.
In the darkest hours of insomnia, it can be enormously helpful to have a friend who’s willing to be there on the other end of the phone—even if it’s in the middle of the night.
Food and Nutrition
Many in the withdrawal community have reported that changing their eating habits has played a significant role in helping them get better sleep. Here are a few dietary changes that people have shared with us:
- Avoiding eating within 3 hours of bedtime
- Avoiding sugar and sugar substitutes
- Avoiding processed foods
- Avoiding soy
- Avoiding gluten
- Avoiding caffeine past late morning
- Drinking Golden Milk before bed (an internet search will bring up various recipes)
- Drinking bone broth before bed
- Drinking a favorite decaffeinated tea before bed—some say that adding turmeric to it is especially tasty
- Eating a plethora of healthy fats
- Eating fat before bed (such as avocado)
- Eating a small protein snack before bed
- Eating protein 5 times a day, but no sugar. Our friend reported that this helped her keep her blood sugar more even, which helped her sleep better.
You can read more about the general role of nutrition in healing from psychiatric drugs here.
People having difficult withdrawal experiences often describe how hard it can be to lie in bed with intrusive or disturbing thoughts. One of our friends shared how helpful it’s been for her to write gratitude lists at night and focus on a couple of things she’s grateful for—this has reduced the intensity of her thoughts and even helps her shift her thinking to a less-dark place.
Some have shared how Himalayan salt has been helpful in easing them to sleep. Here are some of the reported uses:
- Drinking Himalayan salt mixed in warm water before bed (Our friend shared that she used 1/2 to 1 teaspoon in about a cup of water)
- Putting a small amount of Himalayan salt in honey under the tongue at night. (Our friend said she combined 5 teaspoons organic raw honey with 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt.)
- Using a Himalayan salt lamp in the bedroom at night.
Some people find hypnotherapy has helped them with insomnia.
There are several types of journaling activities that folks in the layperson withdrawal community have found helpful to the sleep process:
- General journaling about feelings, emotions, and thoughts has been said to sometimes reduce the intensity of repetitive thinking
- Journaling upon waking from a dream or nightmare can often reduce the power of disturbing images
- Sleep pattern journals can be very instructive. A friend of ours described how keeping track of his patterns helped him see how many misconceptions he’d been carrying about his sleep.
Light and Wavelength Adjustments
Many people find changing the way they use light at night can impact their ability to sleep. Experimenting with a variety of light bulbs and reducing the exposure to blue light is found to be helpful for some. Blue light is most brightly emitted from electronic devices such as cellular phones, computers, tablets and televisions. Common suggestions include:
- Avoiding turning on the light if one gets up in the middle of the night
- Considering replacing some of the blue, daylight bulbs with warm, low watt bulbs for use in the evening and at night
- Avoiding blue light on electronic devices for at least 2 hours before bed
- Using blue light-blocking glasses at night
- Using blue light-blocking apps on electronic devices at night such as “f.lux” (which can be found in app stores)
A light machine (app) is sometimes suggested as beneficial when trying to wind down and prepare for sleep. The idea is to engage in a stress-reducing activity. If using a visual app before sleep, using a blue light-blocking app for the electronic screen may help (See Light and Wavelength Adjustments). One example of a light machine can be found here.
Lots of people have described how getting routine massages (anywhere from once a week to once a month) has been helpful to their sleep.
Many people find meditation of all types to be helpful in preparing for sleep.
One of our friends has found the following grounding meditative practices to be especially helpful for her when trying to wind down for bed:
- Think of 5 things you like to see, and visualize each one
- Think of 5 things you like to hear, and visualize each one
- Think of 5 things you like to touch, and visualize each one
- Think of 4 things you like to see, and visualize each one
- Think of 4 things you like to hear, and visualize each one
- Think of 4 things you like to touch, and visualize each one
- Think of 3 things you like to see, and visualize each one
- Think of 3 things you like to hear, and visualize each one
- Think of 3 things you like to touch, and visualize each one
- Think of 2 things you like to see, and visualize each one
- Think of 2 things you like to hear, and visualize each one
- Think of 2 things you like to touch, and visualize each one
- Think of 1 thing you like to see, and visualize it
- Think of 1 thing you like to hear, and visualize it
- Think of 1 thing you like to touch, and visualize it
Another friend shared that guided meditations were an “absolute lifesaver”. She recommended Tara Brach’s meditations and talks because of her soothing and compassionate voice.
Walking meditations and lovingkindness meditations have also been reported to be helpful with sleep problems in withdrawal. An internet search will bring up a variety of options to try.
It’s commonly believed in the layperson withdrawal community that use of minerals and supplements during withdrawal—and especially the introduction of new minerals and supplements during withdrawal—is especially risky. However, some people occasionally report feeling helped by magnesium. It’s critical to first get informed about possible interactions between prescribed medications, over-the-counter medications and other supplements you may be taking. People often say to each other that whenever introducing a new mineral or supplement during withdrawal, it’s wise to start with a very small amount to determine whether there’s a negative reaction. People have described:
- Massaging magnesium oil into feet or back
- Soaking feet in warm water with magnesium oil
- Addding magnesium oil to a warm bath
- Taking magnesium supplement
Some people have found that music—and certain types of rhythms, particularly—has helped them get to sleep. Some describe tracking down resources on YouTube or the internet, while others seek the assistance of a neurological music therapist. There are also many sound machines on the market that provide sounds and music conducive to sleep. One friend described how she listens to the same music every night because she feels it’s helped train her brain to get more easily to sleep. Some common terms used to search on YouTube for rhythms to help with sleep include:
- Binaural beats or isochoric tones
- Reiki music for sleep
- Sleep aid music
- Sleep music delta waves
A friend also shared with us that Moby put out an album of calming sleep sounds that can be purchased or found for free on Spotify.
Getting outside and spending time in nature can help bring about a sense of calm and peace, which some people find makes it easier to slip into bed once they’re home.
A friend shared with us that qigong was especially helpful for her when she faced sleep struggles.
Reading during the night
For those who tend to wake up frequently during the night, it’s been said to be helpful to keep a book on the nightstand that can easily be picked up and read for a while until sleep returns.
Relaxing the muscles
Many find that finding practices that help relax muscles can be a good way to ease into sleep. One person described how he had a nightly practice of relaxing one muscle at a time, slowly from his toes to the top of his neck, while he breathed in through his nose, held it for three seconds, and breathed out through his mouth, before waiting three seconds and starting over. Others described finding guided body scans online that can help walk a person through this type of relaxation.
Rituals - preparing for sleep
Some friends have shared how helpful it’s been for them to develop simple rituals or routines before bed that help them prepare for sleep. Having routine rhythms each night devoted to sleep is thought to be reassuring to the central nervous system. Suggestions include:
- Preparing a warm drink
- Turning on softer light
- Taking a warm Epsom salt bath
- Turning off electronics
- Preparing at the same time each night
- Listening to calming music
Massage is reported to be calming to the central nervous system and can aid in sleep. Some people report massaging their own temples, scalp, neck, hands, feet, wrists or shoulders. Adding an essential oil is sometimes helpful.
Sensory Deprivation Salt Tanks
Some people find routine use of sensory deprivation salt tanks reduce anxiety, resulting in better sleep.
Some people report an easier time falling asleep after engaging in sexual activities. This includes sex with yourself.
This is a specialized pillow case that has speakers and a small MP3 player with 23 settings (rain, sleep rhythms, music). One of our friends described how helpful it was for her to discover this pillow.
We heard from a friend that tai chi was a beneficial part of what helped her start to sleep better as she healed in withdrawal.
Some people report watching television in bed helps them distract enough from their minds that they can fall asleep. Others find the blue light emanating from the screen to be activating, aggravating, and anxiety-inducing, or to lead to unrestful sleep. It’s important to listen to one’s body and pay attention to what it’s communicating about what helps and what harms it.
Many people find practicing yoga can help the body and mind relax in preparation for sleep. There are many options for yoga on YouTube. Some popular search terms include:
- Guided yoga nidra
- Tension release yoga
- Yin yoga
- Yoga for sleep
There is also yoga instruction program on YouTube that is reported to help induce sleep called "30 Days of Yoga with Adriene".
The withdrawal community reports heavy usage of YouTube for videos, music, guided meditations, yoga and other resources to help with sleep. It might be helpful to take some time to explore until you find a few options that resonate with you personally.
Some popular search terms include:
- Alternate nostril breathing
- Binaural beats or isochoric tones
- Hypnosis for sleep insomnia
- MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) stress reduction body scan
- Reiki music for sleep
- Sleep aid music
- Sleep music delta waves
- Tibetan bowl meditations
Some popular sleep-related resources by specific groups or individuals on YouTube include:
- Andrew Weil (4-7-8 Breathing Exercise)
- Belleruth Naparstek
- Dan Siegel
- Glenn Harrold
- Jason Stephenson
- Joseph Goldstein
- Louise Hay
- Steven Halpern
- The Honest Guys
White noise is reported by many to help create an environment conducive to sleep. Suggestions for creating white noise include:
- Air purifier
- White noise machine
Some people report improved sleep when the Wi-Fi in their home is turned off. It might be worth a try!