Like many people, you may use an alcoholic beverage before bed to help you rest. It certainly seems to do the trick, making you drowsy so you fall asleep more quickly.
However, it’s important to remember that alcohol is not a sleep aid. Alcohol can trigger sleep disorders, like insomnia or sleep apnea, and can also make sleep disorders you already have even worse.
Let’s take a moment to understand the complex relationship between alcohol and sleep.
Alcohol and Sleep
Drinking alcohol in order to fall asleep may seem to work, as you quickly become drowsy, but it disrupts your natural circadian rhythm.
When you fall asleep, your body produces chemicals that tell your brain that it’s time to rest. Gradually, these chemicals fade away, and you wake up.
Alcohol speeds up the production of these chemicals, making you feel drowsy. However, the quickly-made chemicals rush away just as fast, so you wake up before you’re completely rested.
This leads you to experience insomnia after drinking alcohol, and you wake up in the middle of the night, even though the drinks made you feel tired.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Though it comes quickly, alcohol sleep is not a very high-quality kind of sleep. It’s more like passing out than sleeping.
Studies show that drinking alcohol before bed leads to the brain producing two kinds of activity: the slow-wave sleep pattern called “delta activity,” and the faster-wave activity called “alpha activity,” which usually happens while you’re awake.
The delta and alpha activity conflict with each other and this conflict can lead to less time spent in the kind of deep sleep that helps you feel more rested and able to retain memories.
As the delta and alpha brain activity conflict with each other, your quality of sleep goes down. Therefore, you not only wake up more quickly, but you feel like you didn’t even get enough rest in the short amount of sleep you had.
Because of the circadian rhythm’s interruption, you can’t fall back to sleep easily, so as to recover that rest. This is why alcohol and insomnia seem to go hand in hand.
Other Sleep Problems Caused By Alcohol
In addition to insomnia, alcohol can also cause a disorder called sleep apnea, in which your breathing stops while you’re resting.
Alcohol makes your body relax, including your throat muscles, which can contribute to the slow or stopped breathing characteristic of sleep apnea, affecting your health and quality of sleep.
Not only can drinking alcohol before bed cause sleep apnea, but should you possess the disorder beforehand, alcohol can lead to an even worsened ability to breathe.
Additionally, as you may already know, drinking alcohol makes you go to the bathroom more frequently. This includes having to go in the middle of the night, causing you to get up out of bed more often, interrupting your rest.
Ultimately, alcohol and sleep deprivation are more closely linked than alcohol and the restful sleep you imagine it would provide.
How to Drink in a Sleep-Healthy Way
Here’s the good news: you don’t need to abstain from alcohol completely. It’s possible to find a responsible way to drink, without negatively affecting your sleep!
Your body is best at metabolizing alcohol in the early or mid-evening. If you drink it immediately before bed, you’ll get the quick sleep that’s more like passing out, but if you drink when your body is primed to handle the alcohol, your sleep will not be affected.
Though it’s tempting to drink just before bed in order to fall asleep, keep in mind that the sleep caused by alcohol is not good quality and will result in unsatisfactory results – especially long-term.
Try to allow three to four hours in between drinking alcohol and lying down for bed. This timeframe allows you to enjoy after-work cocktails with friends or a glass of wine with dinner!
If you do find yourself drinking later at night, drink two glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage, so as to help your system flush out the alcohol and allow you to sleep better.
If the drink is sugary or fizzy, drink more water to help your body digest it. Drinking with food also helps your body process the alcohol.
Be careful not to drink alcohol with sleeping pills – the pills and alcohol can compound each other’s effects, impacting your body’s ability to breathe, causing a dangerous kind of sleep apnea.
Here’s a video showing more details on alcohol and sleep.
Overall, you don’t have to completely abstain from alcohol in order to avoid alcohol insomnia.
Now that you understand the effects of alcohol on sleep, you can live and drink in a way that will allow you to have fun and enjoy your favorite beverages – while still getting the sleep that you need to improve your quality of life!
Do you use alcohol to sleep?