Need Help Recovering From Painkiller Addiction? Sleep and Positivity May Be The Answer

By Paul Gaita 01/09/17

A new study examined the link between physical cravings, mental outlook and sleep quality.

A man having a decent night's sleep.

Studies have shown that sleep is one of the many areas that can be negatively impacted by opioid addiction. Their impact on an array of crucial brain functions can alter mood, stamina, coordination and even rapid eye movement sleep (REM), when the brain performs essential "housekeeping" tasks from information processing to clearing toxins from the brain.

Now, new research suggests that similarly, getting quality sleep—combined with a positive outlook—may help to reduce physical cravings for opioids during withdrawal. 

Faculty and graduate students from Pennsylvania State University's Social Science Research Institute and researchers from the school's College of Medicine discovered the possible connections as part of a larger study that included neurocognitive assessments of relapse risk.

The study involved 68 patients from the Caron Treatment Center that had recently completed medically-assisted withdrawal from opioids. Using a smartphone app developed by Penn State's Survey Research Center, participants were alerted by a pre-set alarm to report the quality of their sleep and both positive and negative moods four times a day for a period of 12 days. The app then streamed the data in real time to the researchers' lab, where it was analyzed along with information culled from face-to-face interviews with the participants.

The researchers found that the study participants who reported lower quality of sleep also experienced greater than usual cravings for opioids. However, as study co-author and associate professor Bo Cleveland noted, "We also found that a positive mood can partially mediate the effects of poor sleep quality on cravings." Thirty-one percent of the overall association between quality of sleep and cravings was attributed to maintaining a positive attitude, though no evidence could be cited for an association between sleep quality and cravings and a negative attitude.

The researchers noted that their findings might provide greater insight into other addiction issues. "We’ve just begun to evaluate the data from the project, so we’ll also be looking into the impacts of other daily processes on relapse from drug addiction and what happens once the patients leave treatment," said Cleveland. "This study opens the door to further research on the relationship between sleep, moods and cravings with patients with other substance abuse."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.