How Alcohol Affects Sleep

Chances are you have noticed falling asleep is easier after drinking. You may also have noticed it is difficult to maintain sleep as time passes, especially if you went to bed after drinking heavily.

Sleep disruption is among the many effects drinking alcohol has on the body. If you’re losing sleep from alcohol, here is why you’re damaging your health in more ways than you may realize.

REM and NREM Sleep

Although you may think of sleep as one long period that begins when you get into bed and ends when you wake up, it’s not. The human body cycles between periods of REM and NREM sleep over the course of one night.

REM (rapid eye movement) — also known as stage 2 — occurs just after falling asleep. REM sleep is most easily recognized as the stage in which dreams occur. It also influences memory — without enough REM sleep, you will notice problems with concentration and motor skills. During a sound night of ample sleep, you will experience several periods of REM sleep, even if you don’t remember your dreams.

NREM (non-rapid eye movement) — or slow-wave sleep — is the deep sleep that takes place in stages 3 and 4. NREM is restorative in nature. During this time, your body heals tissues, strengthens bones and muscles, and boosts immunity. Consuming more alcohol deepens NREM sleep, but it concentrates the benefits in the first part of the night. As the night progresses, more disruption occurs in relation to how much alcohol has been consumed.

Without healthy sleeping habits, you are more likely to develop a long list of serious health problems, including depression, heart disease, and difficulty breathing. Trying to make up for a lousy night of sleep by napping during the day doesn’t help. Daytime sleepiness is associated with functional and memory problems as well as auto accidents and social problems.

Losing Sleep From Alcohol

Using alcohol as a sleep aid probably causes more harm than good. Combining alcohol and sleep aids together is extremely dangerous, as both slow breathing.

Heavy drinking up until bedtime may lessen the amount of time it takes for you to get to sleep, but it increases wakefulness during the second half of the night. Even drinking small to moderate amounts of alcohol as much as six hours before bedtime negatively affects sleep. In addition, alcohol worsens preexisting sleep disorders such as apnea.

Alcoholism and Sleep Problems

Evidence indicates that individuals with alcoholism may never return to normal sleeping patterns, even following years of abstinence. Some research suggests that the sleep disturbances resulting from drinking alcohol may affect relapse. Returning to heavy drinking, however, only worsens the problem.

The good news is that there is relief for people who once suffered from alcoholism and still have trouble getting enough deep sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy has demonstrated effectiveness at controlling the symptoms of insomnia. Getting more exercise, having healthier eating habits, and avoiding late-night screen time also promotes a better night’s sleep.

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