Techniques and transitions: A sociological analysis of sleeping practices amongst recovering heroin users

Sarah Nettleton, Joanne Neale, Lucy Pickering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper seeks to make sense of the sleeping practices of people who are recovering from heroin use. It brings together two hitherto unrelated literatures: the sociology of sleep and studies on heroin use and recovery. Conceptual resources developed within the sociology of sleep are deployed to facilitate the analysis of interview data generated as part of a qualitative investigation into the everyday lives of recovering heroin users living in England. Twenty one men and 19 women were interviewed with 37 of the 40 being interviewed twice, giving a corpus of 77 interviews. Without exception all the participants in the research experienced extensive sleeping problems that were not only exacerbated by the pharmacological effects of heroin, but were made worse by the way of life that accompanied their using. Irregular and anarchic sleeping practices mirrored the study participants' disrupted and difficult lives. Attempts to establish sleep routines, and normative sleeping patterns, constitutes an important marker of recovery, but after years, and for some decades, of chaotic, intermittent and irregular sleeping, cultivating sleep presents a series of difficult challenges. Their embodied biographies of heroin use constrain the promotion of sleep, and attempts to develop rituals and routines to restore sleeping patterns are confounded by the involuntary aspects of sleep and their recalcitrant bodies. These findings are significant because not only is the quality of sleep critical to health outcomes but it also forms an important but hitherto relatively overlooked aspect of recovery from heroin use. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1367-1373
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


  • England
  • Sociology of sleep
  • Heroin
  • Recovery
  • UK
  • Embodied biographies

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