If you quit drinking and can’t sleep without alcohol I feel your pain. This was once the bane of my existence. Years ago, I would frequently succeed in quitting drinking for one day. Later that night, hours after I went to bed, I would get tired of my brain feeling like it was on fire and head to the kitchen to pour myself a drink so that I could finally fall asleep.
The average person’s occasional insomnia is a walk in the park compared to the twitching, spiraling negative thoughts, and intense night sweats alcohol withdrawal can cause.
I know this because I’m now an average person who has occasional insomnia. Fortunately, the remedies I’m about to share with you still work for me to this day.
Note: Withdrawal becomes worse over time because of a phenomenon called kindling. By the end of my drinking career, my alcohol withdrawal symptoms actually got so bad that I had hallucinations – I saw figures in doorways, heard laughing, and had brain zaps. If you’re experiencing symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal, get professional help immediately.
We will now proceed to discuss why it’s so difficult to sleep during alcohol withdrawal, followed by my Top 10 Remedies to resolve insomnia after quitting drinking. I’ll then review some lifestyle strategies that I still use to this day to ensure a great night’s sleep.
- Quit Drinking And Can’t Sleep? What Causes This?
- Remedy #1: Herbs For Sleep
- Remedy #2: Magnesium and Epsom Salt Baths
- Remedy #3: Amino Acids For Sleep
- Remedy #4: Sleep Support
- Remedy #5: Multi-Nutrient Formulas
- Remedy #6: Kava
- Remedy #7: Kratom
- Remedy #8: Phenibut
- Remedy #9: Nutrient Repair
- Remedy #10: Medications For Alcohol Withdrawal
- Lifestyle Strategies For Insomnia
Quit Drinking And Can’t Sleep? What Causes This?
A very high percentage of alcoholics experience insomnia during acute withdrawal as well as post-acute withdrawal, which occurs after detox and can last for up to a year.
Why can’t alcoholics sleep after they’ve done the right thing and quit drinking?
Over time, alcohol addiction forces our brains to adjust to the presence of alcohol. Our systems respond by producing less of the following natural chemicals:
- GABA, the brain’s primary calming neurotransmitter.
- Serotonin, the brain’s pleasure chemical necessary for confidence and sleep.
- Melatonin, a hormone synthesized by serotonin that brings on sleep.
- Dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical necessary for motivation and learning.
Glutamate, a stress chemical that is suppressed during alcohol intoxication, rebounds to unnaturally high levels during withdrawal.
While this is not a comprehensive picture of the chemicals involved in alcohol withdrawal, skewed levels of any of the above are very common after quitting drinking and can cause insomnia.
I know from experience that there are supplements and lifestyle strategies that can be of tremendous help in restoring biochemical balance and stopping alcohol withdrawal insomnia.
Once we grasp the importance of biochemical balance, we can see why band-aid approaches to falling asleep RIGHT NOW (e.g., popping an Ambien) aren’t always best.
For example, many alcoholics in post-acute withdrawal have insufficient levels of excitatory neurotransmitters (like dopamine) during the day, which can make it harder to fall asleep at night. This situation could be helped immensely by an herb like mucuna pruriens, or an amino acid like DLPA.
Since insomnia is merely a symptom of biochemical imbalance caused by prolonged drinking and/or withdrawal, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
We will now proceed to the remedies that I found most useful for sleep, specifically during post-acute withdrawal. While I will include some medications, the natural solutions can gently help your body restore its own neurotransmitters and hormones.
Some of these solutions were serendipitous discoveries that I found through a process of trial and error. Others were gathered from a variety of reputable books and studies on the subject of nutritional repair for alcoholism and insomnia.
Remedy #1: Herbs For Sleep
Over the past few years, I’ve tried countless herbs from Amazon and my local health stores to identify ones that actually work for insomnia (as well as anxiety, depression, and performance enhancement).
This is a tricky process, because everyone’s biochemistry is different. Herbs sometimes have different effects on different people.
However, I’m enthusiastic about herbs for insomnia because they’re gentler than medications and they can help nudge your body to repair itself naturally. At the same time, some of these herbs have been clinically proven to work just as well as medications!
Here is my top 10 list of herbs for a person that quit drinking and can’t sleep.
Passion flower stimulates GABA receptors more gently than benzodiazepines, and has been clinically shown to help adults fall asleep more quickly. (source)
Lemon balm contains natural GABA-enhancing compounds that aid in anxiety reduction, leading to better sleep. (source)
Chamomile contains dozens of flavanoids including apigenin, a natural GABA-enhancing and antidepressant compound that aids in sleep. (source)
Mucuna pruriens contains a natural precursor of dopamine, exerting a dopamine-mediated antidepressant effect. (source)
Taking mucuna pruriens helped me sleep more deeply at night and beat PAWS.
Valerian contains natural compounds that both enhance GABA and have sedative effects. (source)
Schizandra berries contain compounds that have been found to be more effective than diazepam in regulating serotonin and adrenaline for stress, and also effective for insomnia. (source)
Clary sage contains anti-depressant compounds that clinically boost serotonin levels when consumed as aromatherapy. (source)
Lavender contains anti-anxiety compounds that have been proven to be effective at combating insomnia created by withdrawal. (source)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that balances adrenal and thyroid hormones, easing anxiety and helping with sleep. (source)
Months after I quit drinking, I still had many symptoms of thyroid imbalance – a malady that often results in poor sleep. Instead of opting for a prescription, I took ashwagandha once per day for about a month and started sleeping better.
Holy basil is an adaptogen that lowers cortisol, a stress chemical, and is clinically effective for improving sleep. (source)
Once you find out which herbs work best for you, they’ll become part of your anti-insomnia (and anti-anxiety) arsenal for years to come.
I still use lemon balm and chamomile on a near-daily basis, and I use passion flower with great results whenever I have serious trouble sleeping. I still take ashwagandha because it has anti-aging benefits, and I feel more calm when I take it.
While I’ve had good results with chamomile capsules, I prefer to make chamomile tea every evening. You can find chamomile tea in any grocery store.
I’m one of many ex-drinkers with a continuing oral fixation. I often joke to my friends that I still have a drinking problem – I drink too much tea, coffee, and water. So be it!
I discuss my chamomile tea habit in an article about how to stop missing wine.
Remedy #2: Magnesium and Epsom Salt Baths
I vividly remember the day I began supplementing with magnesium during post-acute withdrawal. This mineral changed my life overnight.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzyme systems in the body and is necessary for proper nerve function. Since magnesium is required for brain balance, it is also required for sleep.
Research has shown that magnesium supplementation improves both subjective and objective measures of insomnia. (source)
It wasn’t until after I began supplementing with magnesium taurate (I currently use magnesium citrate) that I realized that much of the anxiety, jitters, and general malaise I felt during post-acute withdrawal were simply symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Around 50% of the population doesn’t get enough magnesium. Yet the vast majority of alcoholics are deficient in magnesium. (source)
Just one drink increases magnesium excretion by 100%. So imagine how much magnesium is lost when a person drinks half a fifth a day for months on end!
Magnesium can be obtained from foods like spinach, brown rice, and almonds. Unfortunately, our soil has much less magnesium than it did before the advent of industrial farming.
Here are the best ways to supplement with magnesium if you’ve just quit drinking:
- Epsom salt baths – Most expensive but most pleasurable option!
- Magnesium Citrate – Well-absorbed magnesium supplement by Thorne Research
When I began taking epsom salt baths and supplementing with magnesium, I felt more relaxed within minutes and enjoyed the best sleep I’d had in years.
Remedy #3: Amino Acids For Sleep
I’ve discussed amino acids often on this site, because they are the building blocks for neurotransmitters that are depleted by long-term alcohol consumption.
Here are five amino acids that can help to end alcohol withdrawal insomnia:
- 5-HTP – Precursor to serotonin, which is converted into melatonin to induce sleep (source)
- L-Theanine – Suppresses glutamate by plugging its receptors, helping to alleviate insomnia (source)
- Glutamine – Improves brain function, improves sleep, and reduces alcohol cravings (source)
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) – Aids liver function and regulates glutamate, helping to reduce anxiety that leads to insomnia (source)
- Glycine – Glutamate agonist that improves objective measures of sleep quality (source)
I have tried all of the above with good results, and I still use 5-HTP and L-theanine on a regular basis. In my opinion, NAC in particular is an underrated solution for anxiety and insomnia during post-acute withdrawal.
My favorite amino acid of all is DLPA, which is not specifically used for insomnia. In fact, it’s not advisable to take DLPA before bed, because it is a combination of amino acids that are precursors for neurotransmitters that can make you feel euphoric and motivated.
However, as we discussed earlier, normalizing your brain chemistry during the day can help you sleep better at night.
When I began taking DLPA in the mornings, I began feeling better almost instantly. This supplement contains precursors to pain-relieving endorphins and energy-giving adrenaline. It therefore has the unique ability to help you feel relaxed and upbeat at the same time.
Remedy #4: Sleep Support
For people that quit drinking and can’t sleep… I’m SUPER PUMPED to tell you about Sleep Support because it’s an easy and affordable way to consume many of my favorite sleep-inducing nutrients.
Here is a list of some of the potent natural compounds contained in Sleep Support:
This supplement absolutely works to bring on sleep more quickly and to provide a deeper night’s rest. Shipping is free, and if Sleep Support doesn’t agree with your biochemistry or help you sleep better, you can return it for a full refund.
My only criticism of Sleep Support is that it only contains 13.5 mg of magnesium citrate, and I’ve had the best results with 250-500 mg per day. This problem can easily be solved by taking it along with some extra magnesium citrate.
It would be difficult to find all of the ingredients in Sleep Support for a reasonable price. It is a godsend for many of my private clients!
Remedy #5: Multi-Nutrient Formulas
There are exciting new supplement blends that can be used to support alcohol recovery, including restoration of natural sleep. Take care not to choose weak herbal extracts and basic B-vitamins dressed up with fancy marketing. Ideally, the supplement blend you choose will have some of the following nutrients in it (especially the amino acids):
Of course, there are other helpful nutrients for alcohol recovery, like organic omega-3 fish oil and N-Acetyl Cysteine. However, these nutrients taste pretty terrible, so they’re not often found in blends. They’re best taken separately.
Multi-nutrient formulas can help if you fall into one of the following categories:
- You are trying to quit drinking and have trouble sleeping
- You have just finished detoxing from alcohol and have trouble sleeping
- You have already quit drinking and are struggling with post-acute withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia
You can learn more in my article on 3 of my favorite supplements.
We will now proceed to explore some additional supplements that I’ve tried for myself at least several times each, and which I feel confident in recommending.
Remedy #6: Kava
If you quit drinking and can’t sleep, you might love Kava, which is a plant in the Western Pacific islands that contains natural compounds called kavalactones that have been clinically shown to help with anxiety. (source)
Natives in this region of the world have long known about the relaxing properties of kava root powder, which offers the following effects:
I have used kava powder from Top Extracts with amazing results. This brand offers kava powder that contains 70% kavalactones, which is much more potent than the brands of kava that you’ll find at Whole Foods and other online retailers.
After I mixed a teaspoon of Top Extracts’ kava powder with water, I drifted into a super relaxed state that lasted for about an hour. I did not feel intoxicated or high, I just felt very calm. I then had one of the best nights of sleep that I can remember!!
There were no undesirable side effects while I used kava, nor any after-effects in the morning.
Because my results with kava had been hit or miss with other vendors, I have waited to write about kava until now.
I really believe that kava powder is an underrated solution for occasional sleeplessness – and more importantly, that it can help many people suffering from alcohol withdrawal insomnia.
Interestingly, kava bars are cropping up around the U.S. – and they’re a huge hit with people who have quit drinking alcohol. They’re also a big hit with police, who are busy dealing with drunk mayhem outside of regular bars, while the kava bar attendees enjoy relaxed conversation.
Remedy #7: Kratom
Kratom is an evergreen tree native to certain parts of Asia, with leaves that contain a potent compound called mitragynine.
Mitragynine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it stimulates the brain’s opioid receptors – but in a much less powerful way than opiates (kratom is not an opiate).
Although I didn’t try kratom specifically as a sleep aid, I slept very well after taking Classic Red Bali from Top Extracts.
Because of kratom’s unique ability to enhance both relaxation and focus, hundreds of thousands of former opiate addicts have used kratom to get off of opiates.
A growing number of people have had success using kratom to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including insomnia.
You can learn more about kratom – and my method for preparing it as a tea – in my popular article: How To Use Kratom For Alcohol Withdrawal.
Remedy #8: Phenibut
Phenibut is a compound that is remarkably similar in structure to GABA.
Because it enhances GABA activity, phenibut has the following effects:
In short, phenibut is a powerful anti-anxiety supplement that helps with sleep and can also be used to ease mild to moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal at home.
I’ve had great results using phenibut from Absorb Health before air travel and big social events. If you want to try phenibut on its own for insomnia, I would definitely recommend this brand.
I should mention that I take very small doses of phenibut – 200-500 mg at most. This dosage should be sufficient to induce a very pleasant night’s rest.
Remedy #9: Nutrient Repair
Ultimately, how to end alcohol withdrawal insomnia is the same question as how to end alcohol withdrawal itself. If you want to sleep better after quitting alcohol, a full program of nutrient repair should be high on your priority list.
Many alcoholics are deficient in B-vitamins, which can lead to various psychological disturbances including insomnia.
In particular, Vitamin B6 must be present in order for tryptophan (or 5-HTP) to convert into serotonin, which itself is a precursor for melatonin.
Before proceeding, I’ll briefly discuss four additional nutrients that are effective for insomnia.
- Lithium Orotate – Compound containing 5mg of elemental lithium, a rare trace mineral that support the nervous system in similar ways as magnesium. It has helped many people, including myself, feel noticeably more mellow and sleep more easily.
- Niacinamide – One of the forms of Vitamin B3 (along with niacin and nicotinic acid), can increase serotonin concentrations. It can be taken along with tryptophan to induce sleep and mood-boosting properties via the same pathway used by tryptophan and 5-HTP.
- Inositol – A natural glucose isomer that regulates GABA and serotonin and enhances REM sleep. To be effective, this nutrient needs to be taken for at least a few weeks so that it can accumulate and begin working.
- Melatonin – This sleep-signaling hormone may also have antioxidant properties. Melatonin is contained in Sleep Support, in which it works synergistically with other sleep-inducing compounds.
Since inositol can contribute to episodes of low blood sugar, it might be wiser to try niacinamide first if you’re among the many alcoholics prone to hypoglycemia.
For more information about nutrient repair and repairing your body during alcohol withdrawal, the following resources can help you:
- Top 20 Supplements For Detox And Recovery
- Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline And Body Repair After Quitting Alcohol
- Drinking Sucks!
- Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0
Remedy #10: Medications For Alcohol Withdrawal
If all else fails and inpatient rehabilitation is not an option, you may be able to obtain medications for alcohol withdrawal from your doctor. These medications will stimulate your GABA receptors and/or reduce glutamate levels, which can help you sleep.
I’ve written articles about a number of medications for alcohol withdrawal and cravings. Here is a list of articles I’ve written about medications that are most likely to help stop alcohol withdrawal insomnia:
When I quit drinking, I was prescribed a benzodiazepine called Ativan. I was tapered off of this medication slowly over the course of two weeks, because benzodiazepines stimulate GABA receptors powerfully and can cause addiction in a short time span.
I was then given a large supply of Trazadone to take each night. I stopped taking it after about a week because it made me feel extremely groggy the next day. My own continuing insomnia gave me the motivation to slowly discover the gentler remedies contained on this list.
Lifestyle Strategies For Insomnia
Even though supplements and medications can help tremendously for alcohol withdrawal insomnia, they are not necessary in every case. In other cases, they are necessary, but not sufficient to guarantee that you get the best night’s sleep possible.
The following lifestyle strategies changed my life by putting a nail into the coffin of my insomnia problem:
There are many other lifestyle strategies for insomnia such as yoga, meditation, and sauna or steamroom therapy. While these can be helpful, especially in the months after quitting drinking, the importance of biochemical repair for alcohol withdrawal cannot be overstated.
If you think you’ve tried everything for insomnia, keep looking and you will find a solution that makes alcohol withdrawal insomnia a thing of the past!
Being a silver lining optimist is both a choice and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Being CERTAIN that you’ll find a solution to a problem drastically increases your odds of doing so. This basic truth of the human mind applies just as much to alcohol withdrawal insomnia as anything else in life.
I hope that you can use this article as a blueprint for improving your life and finally putting an end to insomnia caused by acute withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
As with all of my articles, I risk giving out too much information that I’ve gleaned over a number of years. I certainly do not want to give the impression that I used all of these remedies at once!
To reiterate, here is what I would use if I were personally having trouble sleeping after quitting drinking:
I would also make sure to integrate some of the lifestyle strategies from the section above.
I can’t guarantee that what worked for me will work for you. But I find a tremendous amount of fulfillment in the idea that something I’ve learned can help others break free from the same horrible state of body and mind that once tortured me.
Quitting drinking and not being able to sleep sucks… but now you have some strategies to help! Feel free to post a question or comment.