We all need sleep. Some of us drop off as soon as our head hits the pillow. Others might spend the night tossing and turning.
You might be tempted to reach for a glass of wine or another low-sugar alcoholic drink. Research shows drinking alcohol may help you get to sleep but reduces the quality, making it a downward cycle.
Does Alcohol Help You Sleep?
Alcohol helps get you to sleep. It is a sedative and depressant, so it binds to your GABA receptors in the brain and makes you feel calm and drowsy.
In the beginning, this appears to improve sleep. However, research shows that after 3 days of continually drinking a ‘nightcap’ the result is disturbed sleep.
Studies also show that this continues to get worse, meaning alcohol use disorder and insomnia are commonly associated.
Alcohol and Deep Sleep
The downside is all sleep isn’t equal. We start our sleep in a light sleep or non-REM sleep. The deeper the sleep, the more restorative work the body is doing. In deep non-REM sleep, physical repair and recovery happen.
After this, REM sleep happens. It can be as short as ten minutes or last for an hour. This period is where our brain sorts, consolidates and processes memories.
REM sleep deprivation has been trialled for research. It impairs complex memory, learning new ways of doing things, and emotional memory. This makes it very important for our mental health.
Having alcohol in your body delays REM sleep. This means you get less of this restorative rest and are more likely to wake in between sleep cycles. Waking after a few hours also increases your likelihood of suffering insomnia.
Even using alcohol to fall asleep can be an issue for a long time. While a nightcap might help you drop off for a while, if you drink every night, it can start a downward cycle.
Anxiety is one of the main causes of insomnia in adults. Alcohol has a short-term effect of reducing anxiety, but in the long term, it increases it significantly.
Alcohol also increases sleep apnea, snoring and night waking. This reduces the quality and duration of your sleep.
Why Can’t I Sleep After Drinking Alcohol?
If anxiety and other external factors aren’t why you struggle with sleep after drinking, it may be down to habit-forming. Sleep is very sensitive to routine.
You may have heard about sleep hygiene. Darkness and quiet are all recommended. Don’t use screens, caffeine or high-sugar foods before bed.
An issue arises, though, when we are used to something to help us go to sleep. This is why sleeping pills can worsen insomnia in the long term.
If you and your brain are accustomed to a glass of wine to make you sleepy, it becomes a habit, part of your sleep routine. Taking away a part of your sleep routine can mean several sleepless nights.
The Good News About Alcohol and Sleep
On the bright side, alcohol-induced sleeplessness can be quickly recovered. If you are simply in the habit of too much, stopping drinking will only lead to a few days of disrupted sleep.
Your body should recover from alcohol sleep deprivation in around ten days. This is provided you do not have an underlying condition causing your insomnia.
It may take longer for those with an underlying issue such as anxiety or alcohol dependence. Focusing on your health can help.
For those who drink too much regularly, insomnia, like other alcohol withdrawal symptoms, can cause you to return to drinking after you have quit. If this happens, it might be worth taking melatonin or Desistal supplements to make sleep easier to come by.
What Can I Do About It?
Several things help with sleep hygiene and routines.
- Stopping drinking several hours before sleeping
- Don’t drink every day or night
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthily
- Take supplements to help restore your natural health
Desistal supplements contain mood-enhancing apple cider vinegar and bacopa monnieri. Improved emotional well-being and general health can greatly boost your sleep patterns and reduce your need to drink alcohol to get a good night’s rest.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2775419/ Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2761628/ Treatment of Sleep Disturbance in Alcohol Recovery
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8116827/ Sleep-disordered breathing in alcoholics