Is There A Relationship Between Alcohol And Sleeplessness
Alcohol is a natural sedative that can cause you to feel drowsy or sleepy especially if you drink too much too quickly. But the truth is alcohol can encourage and prevent sleep, depending on the individual. In fact, researchers suggest that alcohols effect on sleep is not only individual-based but also consumption-related. In other words, alcohols ability to help you sleep primarily stems from how much alcohol you consume, your body chemistry, and your tolerance level. Indeed, multiple studies indicate that there is a connection between alcohol use, abuse, and addiction, and sleep disorders like insomnia.
So, how does alcohol affect sleep? Well, to understand alcohols effects on sleep, you must first understand how the human brain works. Cells located in your forebrain are responsible for encouraging wakefulness. Research suggests that alcohol prevents gamma-aminobutyric acid , a neurotransmitter, from triggering these brain cells. When GABA is unable to activate your brain cells, it disrupts your circadian rhythms and causes insomnia. GABA reduces your brain activity, so you feel tired and ready for bed.
Note: After discontinuing your alcohol consumption, you may still continue to experience insomnia or sleeplessness. More specifically, it could take months or years to see a noticeable improvement in your sleep quality after you stop drinking alcohol.
What Should I Drink Before Bed
Instead of alcohol, consider an herbal tea with ingredients like chamomile, ashwagandha, or valerian root. Warm milk contains tryptophan, which, as we know from Thanksgiving lore, helps us relax and sleep. Weve also read that banana smoothies before bed can help you sleep better blend a banana with some almond milk, regular milk or milk of your choice, along with a heaping spoon of almond butter. The ingredients contain potassium and magnesium, which help you relax.
Alcohol Causes Shift In Sleep Homeostasis By Boosting Adenosine
The researchers carried out a series of experiments with mice and rats to study what happens to adenosine in the brain when alcohol is present.
They found that alcohol boosts extracellular levels of adenosine, which in turn induces sleep by blocking the wake-promoting cells of the basal forebrain.
Co-author Dr. Pradeep Sahota, chair of MU School of Medicines Department of Neurology, says based on these results, its clear that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid:
Alcohol disrupts sleep and the quality of sleep is diminished, he adds, Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases your need to go the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning.
In another part of the study, the researchers also investigated the effect of alcohol withdrawal on sleep. They found after extended periods of binge-drinking, sleep came quickly as expected, but within a few hours, wakefulness set in, preventing a return to sleep.
Also, when alcohol was withdrawn, insomnia set in, as Prof. Thakkar explains:
During acute alcohol withdrawal, subjects displayed a significant increase in wakefulness with a reduction in rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement sleep. This caused insomnia-like symptoms and suggests an impaired sleep homeostasis.
The team now plans to take their studies further and explore other effects of alcohol consumption.
He also urges people not to use alcohol to solve their sleep problems:
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What Happens When You Drink Alcohol Right Before Bed
If you drink alcohol right before bed, you may experience:
- Frequent awakenings
If you binge drink, or drink large amounts very quickly, you can alter your melatonin levels for up to a week afterward. Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes to help regulate sleep.
If you sleep better when you don’t drink, you might consider stopping alcohol use entirely. However, if you continue to have sleeping difficulties, reach out to a sleep specialist.
How Should I Change My Drinking Habits To Sleep Better
As weve seen, the effects of alcohol on sleep are significant. If youre regularly feeling under-rested, heavy drinking may be to blame. So, what steps should you take to start sleeping better? If you do not have an alcohol use disorder , here are some steps you should take.
- Drink less: Research shows a direct link between the amount a person drinks and the decrease in their sleep quality. High amounts of alcohol will result in the most severe sleep disruptions. So, if you drink alcohol during the day, be sure to drink in moderation.
- Dont drink in the evening: You should also refrain from drinking close to bedtime. Even limit your happy hour drinks. Give your body the hours it needs to metabolize alcohol before you go to sleep. This extra time will help you experience consistent sleep cycles.
- Find other ways to relax: If youve made a nightcap part of your routine or rely on it to help you feel sedated when youre anxious, look for healthier ways to unwind. For instance, a bubble bath or a soothing cup of chamomile tea can prepare you for bedtime without harming your sleep quality.
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How Do I Get A Good Nights Sleep After Drinking
If youre worried that drinking in social situations or having a glass of wine with your dinner will impede your chances of getting a good nights rest, here are some tips to improve your sleep:
- Practice meditation and mindfulness. Training the brain and body to relax can help alleviate stress and anxiety, which may help improve sleep problems that are sometimes managed with alcohol use.
- Limit alcohol consumption in the evenings. Late afternoon drinking or drinking within 6 hours of bedtime can disrupt sleep.
- Improve sleep hygiene. Setting and sticking to a regular sleep schedule can improve sleeping patterns over time. It may be helpful to try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. This helps reinforce the circadian rhythm.
- Limit screen time at night. The blue light emitted from your devices may interfere with your natural sleep-wake cycle. In the hours before bedtime, exposure to screens may make it more difficult to fall asleep and feel rested in the morning. Consider reading a book before bed to minimize screen time.
- Take natural sleep supplements. If insomnia is keeping you awake and you rely on alcohol to help you fall asleep, natural sleep supplements may be a helpful alternative. Melatonin, GABA, CBD, valerian root, and L-theanine are commonly used to improve insomnia and disrupted sleep.
How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Affect Sleep
For people struggling with alcohol dependence, insomnia and disturbed sleep are a common symptom of withdrawal. Estimates suggest between 36 and 72% of people in withdrawal from alcohol have insomnia. During withdrawal and recovery, it is harder to fall asleep and total sleep time decreases. Deep sleep is also reduced. Problems with sleep can continue for months or longer for some patients as they recover from chronic alcohol dependence.12
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It Can Cause Trips To The Bathroom
Another way alcohol can disrupt your sleep is by causing you to make trips to the bathroom to urinate. You probably dont drink a large volume of water just before bed because you know if you do, youll be waking up at least once during the night. However, you may not think twice about drinking alcoholic beverages, which will also fill your bladder and spark the urge to urinate.
To make matters worse, alcohol isnt like water and other fluids. Alcohol is a diuretic. In other words, it can cause your body to dispel an extra measure of liquid. Alcohol in your body inhibits the release of vasopressin, your bodys natural anti-diuretic hormone. Usually, your brain releases anti-diuretic hormone as needed to tell your kidneys to hold onto water.
Suppressing this hormone can cause your kidneys to release more water than they otherwise would. In severe instances, this can lead to dehydration, leaving you with nausea and a headache. When this phenomenon occurs, you must drink a lot of water to rehydrate your body.
Alcohol Withdrawal And Insomnia
In addition to experiencing insomnia after drinking alcohol, stopping alcohol use after persistent heavy consumption can also cause chronic insomnia. There are several major sleep-related changes that occur when a person stops alcohol use:
- Increase in awakenings throughout the night
- Reduced length of deep sleep
- Reduced duration of restorative sleep
Alcohol withdrawal insomnia is so common that it is one of the diagnostic criteria for alcohol withdrawal. Insomnia from alcohol withdrawal is likely to persist through the initial period of abstinence. Insomnia after alcohol withdrawal may, in some cases, persist for months or years. Insomnia is one of the largest setback triggers for people in recovery from an alcohol use disorder.
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Disturbance Or Impact On Life
Finally, in order to diagnose sleep disorders caused by substances/drugs, sleep problems must have some major impact on peoples lives, either causing great suffering or harming some aspects of their lives. This can include everything from their social life to their employment status, or other parts of their lives that are important to them.
Which Alcohol Is Worse For Insomnia
It all depends on the amount of overall alcohol consumed. There is no one particular drink that is worse than the others.
That being said, darker coloured drinks can give you a worse hangover. Drinks like whisky and red wine contain more congeners which are well known to cause more severe hangovers.
If youre feeling particularly hungover with headache and nausea, it could clearly be very difficult to fall back asleep again.
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Other Sleep Problems Alcohol Causes
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.
Vivid dreams and nightmares With alcohol in your system youre more likely to have intense, colorful dreams and nightmares as you sleep patterns ebb and flow. You may or may not remember them, but they can be lucid or give you a feeling that you are half awake and half asleep. Because at some point, you might actually be.
Sleepwalking and parasomnias You may experience moving a lot or talking while youre sleeping. Theres a chance youll physically act out your dreams in your sleep, or even sleepwalk.
You may also experience parasomnias which are disruptive sleep disorders that occur in specific stages of sleep or in sleep-wake transitions. These can happen during arousals from rapid eye movement sleep or non-rapid eye movement sleep.
Breathing problems Since alcohols sedative effect extends to your entire body, including your muscles, it may allow your airway to close more easily while youre asleep. This can greatly increase the risk of sleep apnea especially if you drink within the last couple of hours before bedtime.
Could My Alcohol Consumption Be Affecting My Sleep Quality
Yes, especially if you have a habit of consuming too much alcohol too late in the evening.
Drinking too much alcohol too late at night can impact how well you sleep at night. The truth is alcohol has always been a precursor to insomnia. Drinking too much alcohol too close to bed can prevent you from getting the zzz your body needs to function at an optimal level. More specifically, alcohol-based insomnia can keep you awake most of the night and have you staring hopelessly at the ceiling, tossing and turning, waking and being unable to fall back asleep, and/or experiencing nightmares or night terrors.
When alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythms, it can cause you to feel fatigued, drowsy, confused or disoriented, irritable, achy, and unmotivated the next morning. If this only happens occasionally , its probably not a serious problem, however, if you have a hard time getting quality sleep more days than not , it may be time for you to seek help for your alcohol use and sleeplessness.
Excessive alcohol use and chronic insomnia can take a toll on your physical and mental health. More specifically, this combination can negatively affect your school or work performance, productivity, energy level, relationships, self-esteem and self-confidence, mood, health and well-being, and overall quality of life. So, even though alcohol may help you get some zzz at first, it can have the opposite effect over time.
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Why Alcohol Disrupts Your Sleep
A glass of wine may help you relax and nod off, but having it too close to bedtime can lead to poor sleep quality and a groggy, not to mention hangover-plagued, morning after.
When you’re wound up at the end of a long, stressful day, a nightcap may sound like the perfect way to relax before bed. But while a little alcohol may make you feel sleepy, it can set you up for a restless night. Can you unwind with a late-night drink without winding up fatigued in the morning? Probably not.
“Alcohol is a depressant, which can help somebody feel like it’s relaxing them and helping them to fall asleep,” said Charlene Gamaldo, MD, associate professor of neurology, pulmonary, and critical medicine and director of the Neuro-Sleep Division at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “But alcohol also is rapidly metabolized in your system and, when your body washes the alcohol out, it’s more likely to cause what we call a rebound alertness.”
Sleep investigators have found that this rebound alertness tends to strike in the second half of the night, which is when you would normally be in the period of rapid eye movement deep sleep. Missing out on REM sleep can worsen daytime sleepiness that’s why you’re likely to feel that you’re dragging through the day after a night of drinking. Poor sleep quality can also cause problems with alertness the next day.
Can Alcohol Cause Insomnia In Young Adults
Letâs crunch some numbers and assess the evidence.
Individuals with AUD â and who experience poor sleep â report particularly high rates of using alcohol as a sleep aid .15
Itâs clear that using alcohol as a sleep aid leads to poorer sleep and disrupted sleep can lead to an even greater dependence on alcohol. No wonder addiction feeds off this debilitating cycle and insomnia in young adults prevails.
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Alcohols Effect On Sleep Through Other Mechanisms
Sleep-disordered breathing may be an additional contributor to sleep complaints and sleep disruption in heavy drinkers. Even after a single drink normal sleepers can develop snoring and even obstructive sleep apnea resulting in oxygen desaturations . Alcohol relaxes upper airway dilator muscles increasing nasal and pharyngeal resistance , and it prolongs the time required to arouse or awaken after an apnea occurs . Alcohol also selectively depresses hypoglossal nerve activity and alters carotid body chemoreceptor function.
Alcohol exacerbates sleep-related breathing disorders, and the two to four percent of Americans with OSA are particularly susceptible. Heavy drinkers appear to be at increased risk for OSA, especially if they snore, though even modest amounts of alcohol greatly increase the frequency and severity of apneas among persons with OSA, especially in the first hours of sleep when blood alcohol levels are highest . The combination of OSA and alcohol increases a personâs risk of heart attack, stroke and sudden death . Alcoholâs worsening of apneic events, increasing sleep disruption and daytime fatigue, can also impair driving and increase rates of motor vehicle accidents. Among OSA subjects who consumed 14 or more drinks per week, self-reports of sleep-related accidents are fivefold higher compared to those who drink lesser amounts .
Can Alcohol Cause Insomnia
As previously mentioned, alcohol can indeed both promote and hinder sleep. Research suggests that alcohols negative impact on sleep varies and is dose related. Indeed, a growing number of studies demonstrate an association between alcohol dependence and sleep-related disorders like insomnia. The prevalence of insomnia for those struggling with alcohol dependence is estimated to run between 36% and 91%, which is well above average.9 Research has also associated binge drinking with disrupted sleep. Specific brain cells in the forebrain promote a state of wakefulness. Alcohol appears to inhibit neurotransmitters that activate these brain cells. This can disturb the whole sleep-wake cycle, disrupting sleep and potentially predisposing a person to insomnia.10
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Maintain A Sleep Schedule
Build a routine, of course without alcohol. Following a sleep schedule is one of these routines. It helps the brain reorganise and shift the wrecked circadian rhythms back to proper functioning.
Also, a consistent sleep schedule improves the overall quality of sleep and makes it more therapeutic, thereby reducing the symptoms of insomnia.
Recovery Sleep And Relapse
After the withdrawal symptoms subside, people with an alcohol use disorder can experience some improvement in sleep patterns, but for some, normal sleep patterns may never return, even after years of sobriety.
Studies have found that people in recovering tend to sleep poorly, have less slow-wave sleep, and increased wakefulness, resulting in less restorative sleep and daytime fatigue.
Ironically, if the person in recovery returns to heavy drinking, their slow-wave sleep will increase and their nighttime wakefulness will decrease, at least initially. This mistaken impression that alcohol consumption improves sleep is a major reason that many people with an alcohol use disorder relapse. The relief they get, however, is only temporary.
As they continue to drink, their sleep patterns soon become disrupted again. The idea that alcohol consumption improves sleep is, in reality, only a myth.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
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