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How Long Does Insomnia Last After Quitting Drinking?

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Multiple studies have found that insomnia lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months after quitting drinking.

Unfortunately, it’s not a topic that has been studied in too much depth, which is why there’s such a wide range.

There are individual factors like sleep quality before quitting drinking, severity of symptoms, and others that can’t all be accounted for in a single study.

I’ve reviewed the most relevant research in this post if you’d like to learn more.

How Long Sleeping Issues Last After Quitting Drinking

There are 3 main studies that I could find that measured sleep quality in alcohol addicts that were going through withdrawal.

Let’s take a look at the main findings from each.

Study #1: Short Term Alcohol Withdrawal Study

This is a fairly old study back from 1982, which looked at overall withdrawal symptoms of 70 patients over the span of 90 days (1).

They found:

Symptoms related to brain hyperexcitability such as fatigability, inner tension, insomnia and pains persisted for approximately 5 weeks.

The graph below from the study shows the frequency and severity of sleep issues in subjects.

It’s clear that sleep issues were much more common early on in the first 3-4 weeks.

However, this study was fairly limited, and you can see that not all subjects regularly had sleep quality measured.

The other 2 studies are more useful for drawing conclusions.

Study #2 - Sequential Sleep Quality Studies in Abstaining Alcoholics

This study looked at sleep issues specifically, instead of just general withdrawal symptoms (2).

It used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to assess sleep quality. A PSQI score of 5 or under makes you a “good” sleeper, while any score above puts you at a higher risk of having insomnia.

Initial PSQI scores were 11.7 (±4.3), and steadily declined at each 4 week follow-up until the end up the experiment at 12 weeks where it reached a mean of 5.7.

With a mean of 5.7, that means that some patients likely still had insomnia symptoms, but there were no serious sleep issues in most.

Study #3 - REM Sleep and Alcohol Withdrawal

REM sleep is the stage where insomnia usually occurs.

While this study was looking mainly at REM sleep, they also assessed sleep quality at regular intervals over a 12 month period using the PSQI (3).

Here’s what the PSQI scores looked like over time:

  • Baseline - 7.1 ± 3.4
  • After 6 months - 4.8 ± 2.4 at 6 months
  • After 12 months - 4.0 ± 1.28 at 6 months

At 6 months, the average subject was a “good” sleeper (a PSQI of under 5). The average sleep quality continued to improve slightly up until the 12 month period.

SummaryFrom these 3 studies, it seems clear that people who have insomnia after quitting drinking have the worst symptoms immediately, and it slowly improves over time. For the average person, it likely takes around 3-6 months to get back to “good” sleep.

Is Insomnia Typical During Alcohol Withdrawal?

Most people experience some level of sleep difficulties during sleep withdrawal. One study found that 58% of alcoholic men developed insomnia within the first week of withdrawal (4).

Can Insomnia During Alcohol Withdrawal Be Treated?

Some aspects of insomnia during withdrawal can’t be treated the same as typical insomnia because they are a result of physical changes that the body needs to “sort out.”

However, there are other contributors for insomnia that can be treated, like stress and sleep hygiene.

A physician has multiple proven treatment options for insomnia that can help speed up sleep recovery:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi)
  • Sleep hygiene education
  • Medication
  • Relaxation-based therapies (e.g. meditation, acupuncture, yoga, etc.)

In most cases, a doctor will prescribe more than one of these to a patient with sleep issues, regardless if they are in withdrawal or not.

They won’t instantly fix the problem in most cases, but can lessen symptoms, and help the patient get back to good sleeping patterns faster.

References

  1. Studies on duration of a late recovery period after chronic abuse of ethanol. A cross-sectional study of biochemical and psychiatric indicators
  2. Sequential studies of sleep disturbance and quality of life in abstaining alcoholics
  3. Sleep and the cholinergic rapid eye movement sleep induction test in patients with primary alcohol dependence
  4. Treatment Options for Sleep Disturbances During Alcohol Recovery

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.