While a drink now and then may have a sedative effect that causes you to drift off faster, research shows that it can impede sleep quality in the long run. Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption from alcohol also contribute to next-day tiredness, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Even if it doesn’t present as a full-fledged hangover, alcohol-related sleep loss negatively affects mood and performance. Circadian rhythms affect how the body responds to alcohol, depending on the timing of alcohol intake. Long-established research shows the body metabolizes alcohol differently at different times of day.
Studies have shown the body is more effective at processing alcohol at certain times of the day than others. After a few hours of sleep, alcohol can cause you to wake up and have a difficult time going back to sleep. There are many medications used to treat insomnia, including benzodiazepine and nonbenzodiazepine medications. If you’re in recovery, your healthcare provider will need to weigh the risks and benefits of prescribing these medications for insomnia. There are also some relapse-prevention medications that can help promote sleep.
The Best Tea for Sleep
Every year, millions of people across the world give up alcohol for a month—a tradition that started as Dry January, and has expanded into similar efforts, such as Sober October. Whether it’s part of a coordinated campaign, or simply an individual attempt to drink less, the number of sober-curious people among us seems to be growing. It can help to meet new people through alcohol-free activities such as hobby groups, sports teams, volunteer groups, and community events. If you feel you need support to begin this new chapter of your life, talking with a therapist can be a great way to start.
The REM-on groups largely consist of
cholinergic cells in the lateral dorsal tegmentum (LDT) and the pedunculo pontine tegemental
(PPT) nuclei. REM-off cells involve how to fall asleep without alcohol the serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus and noradrenergic
locus ceruleus. Once a threshold level of activation is reached in the
REM-off cells, they become dominant.
How does alcohol affect sleep?
When you have sleep apnea, drinking can make the breathing interruptions last longer when you are asleep, leading to more awakenings. Studies have shown that people who drink and have sleep apnea are at a much higher risk of traffic accidents than people with sleep apnea who do not drink alcohol. A person might think that having a drink before bed may help them sleep because alcohol helps them relax. Because of drinking’s negative impact on sleep cycles, a person does not sleep as well if they drink before bed. Consuming alcohol could also result in an imbalance in the sleep stages you experience. This deep, slow-wave sleep is critical to getting good-quality rest.
- Some individuals find that alcohol consumption can trigger hot flashes and night sweats during menopause.
- People who consume alcohol before bed don’t wake up as often during the first few hours of sleep.
- When you have sleep apnea, drinking can make the breathing interruptions last longer when you are asleep, leading to more awakenings.
- Eye movement increases, often seeming to jerk around, breathing increases and can be irregular and shallow, blood pressure increases and dreams begin.
The increase in delta activity is also consistent with alcohol’s GABA
agonist properties. GABA mediated hyperpolarization of cortical and thalamo-cortical
neurons is thought to underlie the calcium channel mediated burst firing that results in
EEG delta activity (Steriade 1999). While alcohol
does not lead to presynaptic GABA release in the thalamus or cortex the way it does in
some other brain regions (Kelm, Criswell, and Breese
2011), it does enhance the function of GABAA receptors. Two studies have evaluated sleep evoked responses in abstinent long-term
alcoholics. Nicholas et al. (2002) studied 7
abstinent long-term alcoholic men meeting DSM – IV criteria for alcohol dependence
and 8 normal control men. Alcoholics were less likely to generate a K-complex in response
to a tone than matched controls.
Why it makes you sleepy
An older study concluded that alcohol might reduce sleep in the first half of sleep and increase disruption in the second half. The potential for insomnia treatment to influence alcohol-related consequences has significant implications for the prevention and treatment of problematic alcohol use among young adults. This suggests not only that CBTi is effective in reducing insomnia symptoms but that improvements in insomnia may also result in fewer alcohol-related problems. These impairments could mean the danger signs related to substance use — and excess alcohol consumption — are missed. The transition from risky behaviours to bad habits and ultimately addiction is worryingly common. One contributory factor could be the effect of poor sleep on neurocognitive functioning.
There is evidence of allosteric
modification of GABA receptors (Kang, Spigelman, and Olsen
1998; Follesa et al. 2006) and reduced
GABAA receptor function (Valenzuela and
Harris 1997; Mihic and Harris 1995) in
rodent models of alcohol dependence. Thus down regulation of brainstem GABAergic systems
following development of alcohol dependence would lead to diminished activity in REM-off
systems (see Figure 6) leading to an increased
propensity for REM. This hypothesis has not been directly tested, and it should be noted
that other factors may play a role in the increased REM seen in long-term abstinent
alcoholics. For example, administration of the tumor necrosis factor α
(TNF-α) antagonist etanercept led to normalization of REM sleep in 18 abstinent
alcoholics (Irwin et al. 2009). But that can start a dangerous cycle of more fragmented sleep, followed by heavier drinking. “I do see a lot of people who self-medicate for insomnia with alcohol, which is definitely not a good practice,” said Dr. Sabra Abbott, an assistant professor of neurology in sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
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There’s a chance you’ll physically act out your dreams in your sleep, or even sleepwalk. Besides just waking you up a lot, alcohol can disrupt your normal sleep patterns enough to create some longer-term issues you may need to address. If you have alcohol in your system when you hit the hay, you may not sleep very deeply, or for very long, on and off throughout the night. That’s because as alcohol starts to metabolize, the sedative effect wears off. So while cutting out drinking will likely benefit your sleep, there may be other factors affecting your shuteye.
Although there’s no evidence that alcohol can cause narcolepsy (sleepwalking), it does disrupt REM sleep, which may make the onset of sleepwalking more likely. Even though a glass or two may help you initially drift off faster, it probably won’t benefit your sleep quality in the long run. If you sleep better when you don’t drink, you might consider stopping alcohol use entirely.