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The sleep addiction connection. Sleep, insomnia and drugs.

Sleep problems connected to addiction.

New research says managing light may be key to improving sleep - Huge factor in addiction

Can't sleep?

You're not alone.

Sleep problems are at epidemic levels in the modern world. But if you have an addiction or substance abuse issues you almost certainly have trouble sleeping. Either you have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or just getting enough sleep.

Khurshid A. Khurshid, a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine says sleep troubles are five to 10 times higher in people with substance use issues, compared with the general population.

It also depends on the substance.

People with alcohol dependance report waking up frequently and being unable to fall back asleep. People with opiate dependency report particular trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. And people addicted to stimulants like cocaine or crystal meth sometimes report hardly being able to sleep at all.

Not only that but sleep is a huge problem in relapse. As many addicts report inability to sleep was a big factor in driving them back to addiction. Sleep is such a broad social problem that the popular online newspaper, The Huffington Post has created a section devoted to it. New research appears to be finally yielding answers as to what is causing so many sleep problems.

Blame light. It appears our relationship to light is a key factor in sleep. Light pollution has never been so bad. We live in a 24 hour culture where lights blaze everywhere, stores, coffee shops and homes. Historically the sudden wide availability of bright electric light has allowed people everywhere to suddenly separate themselves from the natural rhythms of night and day. While light obviously serves so many positive functions, we may be now discovering its dark side.

Light at night allows people to stay up later, and eat later in the day. Those factors, and the resulting lack of exposure to natural sun causes disruption in natural sleep cycles. In fact, just bright light entering our eyes late at night may be enough to mess with our sleep hormones. That in turn may cause various kinds of sleep issues research suggests. Now scientists are saying that may have profound consequences.

One of the ways, scientists are figuring out the consequences of bad sleep patterns is by looking at the health of night shift workers, people who work at night and sleep during the day.

New research now connects late night shift work to serious conditions such as dramatic weight gain, depression and even certain forms of cancer. In fact, the statistics are terrifying. Night shift work would seem to be seriously health damaging in the long term.

How does this relate to addiction?

Although it's not a hard and fast rule, people with addictions often live like night shift workers. They stay up late, sometimes all night. And their addictions, may cause them go off natural sleep cycles dramatically, which then causes them to stay up all night. Sometimes the addict's lifestyle is the cause, or simply because drugs and alcohol keep them up late. Either way we're seeing another dangerous overlooked aspect to addiction.

Extreme sleeping troubles may greatly increase our vulnerability to depression, cancers and even heart disease. In fact, the increased risks of cancer that come with long term addiction, could be linked to sleep.

New research suggests that the sleep hormone, melatonin, may serve to protect against cancer and when we don't sleep, or sleep off our natural cycles we increase our risk of chronic disease. Our bodies and particularly our eyes, need to experience darkness to produce melatonin.

An explosive study co-authored by University of Connecticut Cancer Specialist Richard G. Stevens is surprisingly blunt. According to his study published last year in Royal Society, when we disturb our natural (or Circadian patterns) trouble soon follows.

“Circadian disruption (due to light pollution) compromises human health, and can account for a portion of the modern pandemics of breast and prostate cancers, obesity, diabetes and depression.”

A simple solution would seem to be to just get some darkness. Turn off the lights or close the drapes. But there's a new terrifying trojan horse in the war on sleep.

Computers and smart phones power bright blue light into our eyes. Many of us naturally sit up late on our computers and drag our smart devices into bed with us.

We might be voluntarily pouring a potent kind of light pollution directly into our eyes.

Smartphones and tablets disrupt sleep, in part, because they give off "blue" light. The brain reads the blue light of computers as something like the blue light of dawn or early morning.

This light is picked up by special cells behind our eyes. Blue light says to the brain the day is starting not ending. No wonder we then have trouble sleeping.

There is a partial solution that may be helpful. There are now special orange computer glasses designed to move the blue light into the red spectrum.

Because the sun is generally red when it sets, red or orangish light may signal the brain to get sleepy.

As well there is a popular free app that turns your computer screen orange in the late hours before sleep. ( See link below.)

While these aren't cure, they may help.

Sleeplessness in recovery is a common issue. Drug and Alcohol rehabs are full of people having trouble sleeping. But one side effect of sleep issues being so widespread is that the science of sleep has improved greatly. While it can seem daunting to someone who has a lot sleep issues, there are now a host of treatments and strategies to help people sleep naturally without drugs.

In the meantime, wearing orange glasses, or simply getting off your computer or phone late at night, will give you a better chance at getting a decent night's rest.

Sure there's the famous adage: “I'll sleep when I'm dead.”

New evidence suggests that if you don't sleep well you might be dead, sooner than you think. Sleep problems are common with addiction. Another reason to seek treatment, as you only stand to benefit and sleep easier.

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