Are you one of the millions of people who don’t get enough sleep? Or who falls asleep but then doesn’t feel rested in the morning?
When looking for a better night’s sleep, one of the factors you might want to check out is the effect of alcohol on that elusive good night’s sleep.
But doesn’t alcohol help you fall asleep?
In a way, yes. At some point in alcohol poisoning, people may feel drowsy and fall asleep. But this is hardly an effective way of achieving a rested state. In fact, research has found that taking some drinks before bed can work as a sleep aid for a few days. But then alcohol loses its effectiveness. After that, alcohol is much more likely to disturb and disrupt sleep and affect quality of life.
Let’s take a look at why alcohol consumption interferes with restful, healing sleep.
How does alcohol affect sleep?
To understand this, it is important to understand what REM sleep is.
“REM” refers to rapid eye movement, a phenomenon during a lighter phase of sleep. It is when you are likely to dream and have faster heart rate and breathing and more brain activity.
Getting enough REM sleep is believed to promote memory, learning, and mood.
A disorder in REM sleep has been linked to bad dreams and nighttime migraines. It can also affect physical and emotional health Functions as well as the ability to deal with stressful situations.
So how are alcohol consumption and REM sleep related?
Laboratory tests show that drinking alcohol makes both insomnia and breathing disorders worse during sleep. These disorders can interfere with the ability to perform learned tasks if the alcohol is consumed shortly before bedtime.
One study concluded that this loss of learning was due to an interruption in REM sleep. In fact, the more a person beverages before bed, the more likely they are to disrupt their REM sleep.
Low alcohol consumption at bedtime was not associated with disrupted REM sleep.
A research that examined several studies on alcohol and sleep concluded that alcohol consumption delayed the initiation of REM sleep from its usual and normal pattern. The total time spent in REM sleep was also reduced.
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Self-medication with alcohol
The Sleep Foundation advises that people who drink in the evening may have more insomnia and feel tired and sleepy the next day. These effects can drive a person into a vicious cycle in which a person uses alcohol to self-medicate to fall asleep, take stimulants like caffeine during the day to wake up, and then resort to more alcohol the next evening to fall asleep again.
Unsurprisingly, drinking large amounts of alcohol quickly causes a significant deterioration in the quality of sleep. Binge drinking is the process of consuming five or more drinks in a short period of a few hours (or four drinks for a woman).
Binge drinking severely affected the sleep of young adults, with both the amount and frequency of drinking being more damaging factors. ONAnother study from Korea found that adult men who scored higher on tests for alcohol disorders also had higher scores for sleep disorders and poor sleep quality.
Alcohol and sleep apnea
Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing becomes obstructed or hindered while they sleep. A person with sleep apnea may snore loudly, wake up dozens of times a night, some wheezing, and suffer from poor quality sleep all night. Alcohol consumption contributes to sleep apnea because of this The drug causes abnormal relaxation of the neck muscles. This relaxation can clog the airway in the throat, forcing a person to make an effort to get enough air while they sleep.
Alcohol Consumption by Older Adults
One research focused on the alcohol consumption of older men to determine how their consumption affected their sleep. Those who drank more than 21 standard units of alcohol each week woke up several times a night. Those men who had maintained this pattern for several decades not only woke up frequently at night, but were also tired when they woke up in the morning.
Alcohol and the central nervous system
Alcohol is both a stimulant and a sedative. Having a drink may make you feel more excited. But as you drink more, you will likely begin to notice the calming effects of alcohol.
“Alcohol can affect several parts of the brain, but generally it contracts brain tissue, destroys brain cells, and depresses the central nervous system.”
In larger quantities and in alcoholics, alcohol can have a profound effect on the central nervous system (CNS). According to a research project “Alcohol can affect several parts of the brain, but generally it contracts brain tissue, destroys brain cells, and depresses the central nervous system.”
The damage to the CNS can trigger sleep disorders. A well-functioning CNS is essential for normal, healing sleep. That relationship could explain why between 36% and 72% of alcoholics also suffer from so insomnia. It is not uncommon for this insomnia to persist for weeks or even months after a person stops drinking.
The solution to alcohol-related sleep problems
There is a pretty overwhelming range of scientific studies to support the conclusion that alcohol consumption affects a person’s sleep quality.
So what can be done to improve sleep? The only real solution is a healthier lifestyle. And that means low alcohol consumption and, in particular, avoiding consumption in the evening before bed.
In the evening, of course, most people are there to drink, for example when they call it a day or go out with friends. Hence, a healthier lifestyle with better quality sleep means that those who spend their evenings drinking alcohol have some choices to make. Realizing that a good night’s sleep is essential to health, learning, and mood enhancement, it may not be that difficult to make the decision to keep drinking low or even to stop drinking altogether.