Alcohol and Sleep Deprivation: How Staying Sober Can Help Your Slumber

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Joy Richards - April 20, 2020 Hi, I’m Joy - Happy Beds' Sleep Specialist. Aside from Italian food and my three lovely boys, nothing makes me happier than helping our customers find what works for them, and how they can make the most of their forty winks.

Alcohol and Sleep Deprivation: How Staying Sober Can Help Your Slumber

Most of us will be guilty of indulging in a night-cap or two once in a while, but did you know alcohol can actually make you sleep worse? Yep, that’s right, although a tipple can often make you fall asleep, it can negatively affect your quality of sleep and has a part to play in many sleep disorders.

Don’t just take our word for it! We’ve been chatting to Dr Glenn Mason, HCPC Registered and BPS Chartered Counselling Psychologist, about drinking alcohol and the effect it has on us emotionally and physiologically in terms of sleep.

 

Alcohol and Sleep Cycles: Is It Good or Bad for Slumber?

A recent report by WebMD reviewed 27 studies and found that alcohol does help healthy people fall asleep quicker and deeper for a while but does not improve sleep quality due to a reduction of melatonin and REM sleep.

REM is restorative sleep, and the stage in which people dream, so disruptions can significantly contribute to that groggy feeling when you wake up. Did someone say hangover?

(For more on REM, read: Understanding Light Sleep: How to Become a Better Sleeper

The NHS explains this effect on sleep cycles by breaking your night into two very distinct phases.

The first half of the night people wake up less, move less, have an increased heart rate and experience less REM sleep than if no alcohol had been consumed. That is because the body is metabolising alcohol.

The second part of the night still sees a rebound effect. What is the alcohol rebound effect? Well, again, little REM sleep and a high heart rate are seen, but there is more wakefulness and movement. That is because the alcohol is metabolised by this point and the sedative effects have worn off.

You may not remember waking up, but this will disrupt your circadian rhythm and could lead to you waking earlier and not being able to go back to sleep. Leading to naps later in the day and further disrupting your body clock.

Furthermore, as alcohol is a diuretic, after the metabolisation phases are over, your body is likely to wake you so you can go to the bathroom.

 

Is There a Link Between Alcohol and Sleep Disorders?

The more you drink, and the closer you do so to bedtime, the more pronounced effects will be. So, one or two drinks should not have a huge influence on your nightly nod, but binge-drinking or alcoholism could lead to long term sleep disorders.

A report by The Sleep Doctor also states that, unfairly, the effects are more prominent in women, than men. Possibly due to women being smaller, on average.

Alcohol, Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Due to its sedative properties, alcohol can excessively relax the muscles in the head, neck and throat. This interferes with normal breathing during sleep and can increase the risk of snoring and sleep-disordered breathing. In fact, it’s not uncommon to only snore when in a drunken sleep.

So, for those who already have sleep apnea, alcohol can exasperate the condition and cause pauses throughout the night. In short, alcohol and sleep apnea are not friends.

Insomnia After Drinking Alcohol

As previously mentioned, alcohol can increase your chances of disrupted sleep and, for some, this means waking up and not being able to get back to sleep at all.

However, due to its inducing properties, for some people who struggle to drift off, it can seem tempting to have a glass or two with the idea that at least some poor-quality sleep is better than none at all. However, alcohol should never be used as a sleep aid as doing so could lead to alcohol dependence, and is linked with a greater likelihood of sleep walking, sleep talking and memory problems.

Instead, if you’re struggling to sleep, I would recommend speaking to your doctor about more appropriate aids or trying some of our tips below.

 

Drinking During the Coronavirus Lockdown

Let’s be honest, a lot of us are drinking more during the pandemic. Many people have been furloughed and most places are shut, so there’s no need to get up early and drive anywhere, whereas illness anxiety or the stress of home schooling has driven some to the bottle.

However, as you can probably now tell from the facts above, upping your alcohol intake during lockdown isn’t the best idea. Now, I’m not saying to go teetotal, however, cutting back could help ease negative emotions and help you sleep better during this period of unease. Plus, it’ll save you a few pennies too!

Dr Mason said:

“Many people use alcohol to self-medicate and block out difficult thoughts and emotions. The challenge here is the difficulties never get addressed, it may exacerbate them further or create other problems. During this lockdown period, people need to be mindful around their alcohol consumption and that it doesn’t become a “crutch” to help them through.

“Keeping alcohol use within the recommended 14 units a week, should limit the risks associated with alcohol use. In considering these 14 units, it is recommended these are spread out over a week as opposed to “binge drinking” these units or more over a day or two. 

“A report from the Royal College of Nursing (2020) reported that “31% of men and 16% of women in England are drinking alcohol to excessive levels impacting their physical and mental health”. Excessive alcohol use can significantly increase your risk of injury and puts you at a higher risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, cancer, infertility and sexual dysfunction.

“Drinking too much alcohol can also have a significant impact upon your mental health. So, during this lockdown be careful you are not using alcohol excessively. Don’t forget alcohol has a depressant effect.

“I think the first step is recognising that you are drinking “too much” and from this point taking steps towards change. But, how do you know if you are drinking too much? A quick assessment you can use is:

STOP

S-Stress: Are you reaching for alcohol to help you manage this?

T-Thoughts: Is your mind telling you to set limits around your drinking, but you find you can’t stick to this. You are noticing your mind questioning your own drinking.

O-Others: Are people around you commenting or concerned about your drinking?

P-Plans: Are you noticing alcohol at the centre of your social and home life?”

 

But, We All Love a Tipple!

If you really enjoy a drink and aren’t ready to cut back completely quite yet, there are other things you can do to improve your sleep.

How to Sleep Better After Drinking Alcohol

Consider Your Diet

Cheese makes you dream more, and coffee and sweet treats give you energy. Conversely, nuts and omega-3-packed fish can help produce sleep-inducing hormones. So, if you’re tempted to have a little snack before bed, make sure you’re nibbling on the right thing.

Read more: Counting Sheep? Here Are 5 Foods That Could Be Hampering Your Sleep

 

Get Active!

Now, I know not everyone loves the gym or playing sport, but even a short walk or vacuuming your home will help you get some light exercise and to release sleep-friendly endorphins.

If you can do an activity outside, sunshine will help regulate your internal clock too!

 

Invest in a Comfortable Bed

Whether you have drank alcohol or not, if you have an uncomfortable and unsupportive bed, you’re going to struggle to get a restful night sleep. So, if your bed is subpar, it may be time to upgrade it.

Our double memory foam mattresses are great all-rounders, but if you’d like something a little more specific for your needs, check out our Mattress Guide and our Size Guide for further purchasing guidance.

Read more: 8 Top Tips for a Healthy Night’s Sleep

 

So, Will You Cut Back on Your Alcohol Intake?

So, we’ve rounded up the facts, and spoken to the experts, but will that influence your drinking and quality of sleep? We’d love to discuss this topic with you over on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.