5 Reasons Why Alcohol and Sleep Don’t Mix and What To Try Instead

Sipping on a glass of your favorite nightcap may seem like the perfect way to unwind after a long day...but have you ever stopped and thought about how alcohol affects your sleep quality?

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One prevalent misconception is that a glass or two of booze is an excellent nightcap, a drink to help you enjoy quality nighttime sleep. 

Although modest quantities of alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker, it often reduces the overall quality of your sleep. You can feel as if you didn’t sleep in the morning. 

Read on to learn how alcohol interferes with sleep and discover some suitable alternatives to try instead!

What Is the Normal Sleep Pattern?

Which stage of sleep is disrupted by alcohol? In reality, all of them suffer, but it’s the REM that ends up hurting the most.

It is essential to understand how sleep processes function to comprehend better how alcohol can affect sleep. Sleep features four to six phases called sleep cycles per 24 hours. 

A typical sleep cycle lasts about 90 mins, featuring four phases; three forming the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and one rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

Below is a breakdown of the four stages of a sleep cycle:

NREM Stage 1

This stage entails transitioning from wakefulness to light sleep, typically lasting 5-10 mins. During this stage, your brain activity and body begin to slow down, including eye movements, breathing, and heart rate.

NREM Stage 2

During this stage, your eye movements stop, your muscles become more relaxed, and your body temperature drops. Also, your heart rate, breathing, and brain waves slow down. The stage prepares you for deep slumber and is the longest of the four stages of sleep.

NREM Stage 3

This stage is also known as slow-wave sleep, in which your body muscles and eyes are fully at rest. Your brain activity, heart rate, and breathing are at their lowest of the sleep cycle. During this stage, it’s more difficult to wake up. If a person wakes you in the NREM stage 3, you’ll experience a moment of brain fog or disorientation that can last up to one hour.   

REM Sleep

This is the final stage of a sleep cycle, and it features the brain becoming more active to match or even exceed the brain activity when you’re awake. As the name suggests, the REM sleep stage includes rapid eye movements, increasing heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

You may experience dreams in the REM sleep stage. Therefore, your body muscles enter a temporary paralysis to prevent you from acting on your dreams. The initial phase of REM sleep occurs about 90 mins after you fall asleep and lasts for around 10 mins.

Why Does Alcohol Mess With My Sleep?

Here are the effects of alcohol on sleep.

Alcohol Disrupts REM Sleep

Alcohol seems to be a reliable way to sleep due to its relaxing qualities. When you enjoy an alcoholic drink before bedtime, it increases your levels of fatigue and sleepiness, reducing the time you need to fall asleep. 

However, as the blood-alcohol content begins to fall, it reduces the depressant effects of alcohol. You’ll often miss one of the essential stages of the sleep cycle – REM. Instead, you’ll fall straight into a deep sleep.

Alcohol and sleeping disrupts the typical pattern by creating an imbalance between deep sleep and REM sleep, leading to reduced REM sleep and more deep sleep. REM sleep is typically six to seven cycles per night when you haven’t had alcohol before sleep.When you take alcohol before sleeping, you may only experience one to two REM sleep cycles.

While deep sleep is undoubtedly essential to your physical and mental health, sleep is all about balance. The deep sleep and REM sleep imbalance that comes with drinking alcohol can ruin the quality of your sleep. 

REM sleep is essential for dreaming, memory consolidation, and wakefulness preparation. So, having fewer cycles of this stage will leave you feeling exhausted despite sleeping for the same duration as when you haven’t had anything to drink.

Alcohol Can Cause Disturbed Sleep

Alcohol disrupts the quality of your sleep, especially in the second half of the night. This disruption is because when you drink alcohol before going to bed, your body will keep transitioning between REM sleep and deep sleep as the depressant effects of alcohol wear off. These transitions result in light phases of sleep and more nighttime and dawn awakening, leaving you feeling worn out in the morning.

Alcohol is a natural diuretic, meaning you’ll have multiple trips to the washroom after drinking. The frequent need to visit the bathroom at night more than you usually do when you sleep without drinking disrupts your sleep. 

As a result, you won’t enjoy the restful night’s sleep you desire. In worse situations, overindulging in alcohol can cause nausea and diarrhea. Even if you don’t vomit, the nauseous feeling is unpleasant, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Alcohol Disrupts Your Circadian Rhythm

A 24-hour internal clock called the circadian rhythm regulates your sleep-wake pattern. To help manage the timing of your circadian rhythm, the enigmatic pineal glands in your brain release melatonin in response to darkness. According to research, drinking alcohol reduces melatonin release, even after the sun goes down.

Most alcohol users often think that using melatonin supplements can help alleviate the adverse effects of alcohol on sleep. However, we don’t recommend combining alcohol with melatonin supplements. 

It can lead to potential side effects, including high blood pressure, anxiety, breathing problems, and dizziness. In worse situations, combining alcohol and melatonin can limit your liver’s capacity to produce certain enzymes

Alcohol Leads To Inadequate Temperature Regulation

The first thing that crosses your mind when discussing alcohol and sleeping is dizziness and frequent bathroom visits. However, there’s a simple yet disruptive effect of alcohol on  sleep quality; poor temperature regulation. Alcohol impairs your body’s ability to regulate internal body temperature, making it uncomfortable to fall asleep.

Alcohol leaves you feeling like you’ve got a fever, which comes with shivering and sweating, or you may experience alternating stints of cold and hot fevers as your body tries to create a balance. The poor temperature regulation is because alcohol dilates your blood vessels and induces blood to flow to the skin’s surface, leaving you to flush and your skin to feel heated. 

This blood circulation is an attempt by your body to cool your internal body organs. Consequently, it causes a fever sensation, which makes it difficult to fall or remain asleep. 

Alcohol Can Exacerbate the Effects of Sleeping Disorders

Alcohol and sleeping isn’t a remedy for trouble when going to bed; instead, it can heighten the effects of sleeping disorders. Using alcohol as a sleeping aid can result in various issues, including dependence on alcohol to fall asleep. You can also develop new sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.

Here’s how alcohol consumption amplifies sleeping disorders symptoms:

Alcohol and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing regularly stops and starts when you’re asleep because of a blockage of the airway as surrounding muscles and tissue collapse. Alcohol aggravates these symptoms by further relaxing the throat muscles, causing the throat to collapse more often. It results in more frequent and longer-lasting breathing disruptions.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects your sleep quality by interrupting your sleep cycles. The sleeping disorder reduces oxygen intake, which triggers a survival reflex that wakes you to resume breathing. Drinking alcohol before sleeping worsens the condition, contributing to the lowest oxygen saturation level for people with obstructive sleep apnea.

Besides worsening the effects of sleep apnea, alcohol can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. According to a recent study, alcohol consumption increases the risk of sleep apnea by 25%.

Alcohol and Insomnia

Insomnia is a more prevalent sleeping disorder that entails the inability to fall or remain asleep. While the sedative effect of alcohol on sleep can quicken the process, it doesn’t cover the inability to stay asleep.

Considering the prospective REM sleep disruptions and frequent awakening, we don’t recommend alcohol as a sleeping aid to alleviate insomnia symptoms. Using alcohol to fall asleep can lead to alcohol dependence and heighten insomnia. Research shows that 35-70% of people that use alcohol live with clinical insomnia.

Alcohol and Sleeping: Some Other Problems

Why does alcohol mess with my sleep? Here are some other impacts of alcohol on sleep.

Sleepwalking and Other Parasomnias

Parasomnias are sleep disorders characterized by involuntary actions performed while asleep. This behavior may occur at any sleep cycle phase, including the transition between sleeping and wakefulness. For example, you can experience sleep talking, sleepwalking, sleep-related groaning, or physically acting your dreams. 

Nightmares and Vivid Dreams

The ebb and flow of sleep patterns, when influenced by alcohol, increases the likelihood of vivid, disturbing dreams. These dreams, which you may or may not remember in the morning, can be vivid or give you the impression that you are hovering between sleep and wakefulness. Did you know that having recurring nightmares can make you irritable and tired throughout the day?

What To Do To Minimize Sleep Disruption

Do the above effects of alcohol mean you should quit alcohol to improve your sleep quality? Nope! You can still enjoy your favorite drink responsibly and get a good night’s sleep. 

Below are some insightful tips to ensure your favorite booze doesn’t ruin your sleep quality.

Avoid Drinking at Least Four Hours Before Bedtime

Avoiding alcohol altogether isn’t necessary, but timing your drinks can mean a good night’s sleep or a restless one. You can avoid alcohol’s adverse effects on sleep by reducing and refraining from drinking some hours before bedtime to give your body time to metabolize alcohol.

Quitting drinking early before bedtime will help you enjoy a good night’s sleep and avoid the hangover. It’s difficult to determine precisely how long your body metabolizes alcohol, but the general ballpark estimate is at least for hours before bedtime.

Stay Hydrated

If you decide to combine alcohol and sleeping, it’s important to hydrate. Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your alcoholic drink ensures you enjoy quality sleep and lessen the severity of your hangover the following day. 

This hack is easier said than done; most people don’t know when and how much water to drink. Try drinking a glass of water after every glass of alcohol to keep you hydrated and full, which prevents you from overindulging.

Remember to stay away from caffeine and fizzy drinks when hydrating. Your body absorbs carbonated alcoholic beverages much faster, making you drunk sooner and finding it hard to fall asleep. 

Mixing alcohol and drinks with caffeine will likely keep you awake for longer. In addition, the effect of caffeine content in such drinks will lessen how much you feel the alcohol, increasing the chances of overindulging.

Integrate Meals Into Your Drinking Sprees

Not having enough food in your stomach before starting to drink is a definite way to intoxicate yourself. You can mitigate the effects of alcohol on your sleep quality by drinking your favorite drink on a full belly. A solid, well-balanced meal before your first sip will help your body regulate the absorption of alcohol.

We recommend having a delicious, slow-burning meal with lots of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that will slowly introduce alcohol into your bloodstream, allowing your body to metabolize it without overworking. The less interruption your body experiences, the better the quality of sleep you’ll enjoy.

Visit the Bathroom Before Going To Bed

Try visiting the bathroom before you get a shut-eye. Depending on the amount of alcohol you indulge in, you may need to revisit the bathroom at night, but emptying your bladder before bedtime may allow you some additional time.

Final Thoughts

Adequate, quality sleep is up there with regular exercise and watching your diet to attain optimal health and well-being. However, alcohol consumption before bedtime can ruin the quality of your sleep. 

Don’t get us wrong; we aren’t here to tell you to quit your favorite drink! But cutting back your intake and practicing the insightful tips above will ensure you enjoy a sound sleep. If you want to improve your sleep quality, consider sticking to a consistent bedtime, turning off all the lights and keeping your room without electronics or anything that may interfere with your sleep.

So, if you can’t quit alcohol, find what works with your body, enjoy the drink early, hydrate, and you’re good to hit the hay!

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment. Always consult your doctor before making any decisions.

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