Turns Out Alcohol is a Nightmare for Quality Sleep

Drugs & Alcohol - Featured - Most Recent
Published: 11/30/2021 | Author:

Alcohol impacts sleep, but does it cause a positive or negative impact? We already know that cutting alcohol from your daily routine can yield a host of benefits, but can eliminating alcohol improve your sleep? According to the Sleep Foundation, the answer is yes.

Is Alcohol a Sleep-Killer?

Alcohol is a depressant, so it may aid your ability to fall asleep faster due to its sedative properties. But it has also been proven to negatively affect overall sleep quality and cause sleep disruptions throughout the night.

Once a person consumes alcohol, it is absorbed into their bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine. Then liver enzymes get to work in order to metabolize the alcohol.

Also during this time, the body ramps up the production of adenosine, a chemical in the brain that acts as a sleep-inducer. This enables you to fall asleep faster. However, the initial sedative effects and the adenosine quickly subside, making you more likely to wake up throughout the night.

Alcohol’s Impact on the Sleep Cycle

Alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle, which prevents you from getting a completely restful night’s sleep.

A normal night’s sleep consists of four different stages, which repeat in cyclical fashion throughout the night: three non-rapid eye movement (REM) stages and one rapid eye movement (REM) stage.

During non-REM sleep, we’re in a lighter stage of sleep, and it’s easier to be awakened. Brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing slows down, and our muscles begin to relax. During REM sleep, eye movements restart, then breathing and heartbeat quickens. This stage is known as our “deep sleep” and is considered the most mentally restorative phase of the sleep cycle. This REM stage is also when most dreams occur.

Drinking alcohol disrupts these cycles and inhibits our REM stage of sleep. As a result, overall sleep quality diminishes, meaning shorter sleep duration and more sleep disruptions.

How Much Alcohol Does It Take?

How much do you actually have to drink for alcohol to negatively impact a night’s sleep? One 2018 study found that alcohol consumption at almost any level can cause sleep disturbance. It also determined that the more you drink, the more likely you are to experience sleep disruptions and decreases in sleep quality.

Researchers specifically concluded that:

  • A low amount of alcohol impacts sleep (fewer than two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women), decreasing sleep quality by 9.3 percent
  • A moderate amount of alcohol impacts sleep (two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women), decreasing sleep quality by 24 percent
  • A high amount of alcohol impacts sleep (more than two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women), decreasing sleep quality by a whopping 39.2 percent

The study also showed that alcohol affected both men and women’s sleep similarly. Drinking also impacted the sleep of both those who were physically active and sedentary similarly. Interestingly, the study also determined that alcohol affected the sleep of younger individuals more so than it did for older adults.

But Wait…There’s More

Alcohol consumption has also been tied to chronic sleep problems, such as insomnia.

As mentioned above, alcohol impacts REM sleep and causes sleep disruptions in the sleep cycle, leading you to feel excessively sleepy the next day. It’s common, then, to turn to stimulants during the day – from things like coffee to dangerous stimulants like cocaine – to stay awake.

The problem is that coffee doesn’t sustain your energy for long and it can leave you feeling dehydrated, drained, or on edge by the end of the day. To compensate, people often turn to alcohol in the evenings to calm nerves and initiate feelings of sleepiness. Sleep is again disrupted, and a vicious cycle ensues. And this is why many people with alcohol use disorder frequently report insomnia symptoms.

Finally, alcohol has also been found to exacerbate symptoms of sleep apnea, a disorder in which the upper air passage narrows or closes during sleep, causing abnormal breathing, loud snoring, and temporary loss of breath during sleep. When interrupted breathing happens, the person will awaken, resume breathing and then fall back asleep. According to a recent study, higher levels of alcohol consumption were found to increase the risk of sleep apnea by 25 percent. That’s because the alcohol causes the throat muscles to relax, leading a person to feel more resistance during breathing.

Alcohol and Quality Sleep Don’t Mix

While you might think having a few drinks will help you get to sleep at night, the truth of the matter is that alcohol and sleep are a lot like oil and water. This is especially true for anyone who’s struggling with an alcohol addiction.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) today to speak with a treatment specialist.

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