How does Alcohol and Drugs Affect Sleep?
It has been estimated that roughly 50 to 70 million adults within the United States have or currently suffer from some form of sleeping disorder. A further 10 percent of Americans report that they have been diagnosed with chronic insomnia.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that reacts with two main chemicals within the brain, dopamine, and endorphins which inevitably slows down the individual’s brain activity. Alcohol, with most individuals, has sedative-type effects on the brain and body that can induce a significant feeling of sleepiness and relaxation; ironically, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to poor sleep quality throughout the night.
How does alcohol affect your sleep cycle
Each time you go to sleep, your mind and body go through stages or cycles; your deep, most rejuvenating sleep for the body tends to be more prevalent within the first few hours of rest and slowly reduces during the second half of your sleep cycle. The rem, which is your dream state of sleep, follows as the night goes on.
If you have consumed an excessive amount of alcohol before you lay your head down to sleep, you may not have the opportunity to sleep throughout the night or deeply enough for you not to wake up exhausted. When alcohol begins to metabolize while you are sleeping, the sedative chemical within the substance starts to wear off, which will result in you becoming conscious. You will be waking up exceptionally quickly, multiple times during the night.
How the central nervous system controls sleep
Sleeping is an integral part of our life, research has shown it is incredibly complex. The brain generates two distinct types of sleep known as:
Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS)– known as the deep sleep
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) – known as dreaming sleep
Most of the sleep we encounter is of the SWS variety, characterized by slow brain waves, relaxed muscles, deep and slow breathing, which allows the body to recuperate and be ready for the next day. However, when the body has consumed a heavy amount of alcohol, the brain cannot allow the body to sleep peacefully and recuperate from the day.
For individuals who suffer from severe alcohol use disorder, sleep disturbances can include the following symptoms:
- Day times fatigue
- Frequent awakening throughout the night
- Increase time required to fall asleep
- Restlessness throughout the night
- Significant decrease in quality of sleep
Various sleep problems alcohol addiction causes
Besides increasingly waking up through the night, various other long-term problems can occur when excessive alcohol is consumed. This can begin with:
Sleepwalking and parasomnias – Individuals may experience increased physical movement, whether in bed or around your apartment and increased sleep talking. If you frequently begin moving, it can be a sign that you are physically acting out your dreams.
If you are an individual who experiences sleepwalking or increased movement, there is a high possibility you may also suffer from parasomnias. This is a disruptive sleep disorder that occurs in specific stages of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement).
How to prevent sleep issues caused by alcohol
When an individual’s sleep cycle is distributed to the stage when it mimics insomnia, it can start having serious health issues if left untreated. Common health issues that can arise if lack of proper sleep continues can include but is not limited to:
- Severe and realistic hallucinations
- Increase the risk of accidents, including car accidents and work-related accidents
- Physical and mental discomfort
If you are struggling to sleep through the night due to alcohol consumption, the best way to improve your sleeping issues is to reduce or altogether quit drinking. If you cannot completely stop drinking, try to drink once every two to three days and never drink close to when you want to fall asleep. Try to keep the amount you consume to three units or under.
Several strategies that can help you get your sleep cycle back on track without the use of alcohol or sleep medication that can include:
- Avoid napping throughout the day.
- Develop good sleeping habits, wake up at a reasonable time in the morning, and go to sleep at the same time, roughly at night.
- Try to relax before you go to sleep, an hour or two before you should do wind-down activities such as taking a bath, reading a book, or meditating. If you can, avoid using stimulating electronic devices.
There are a variety of other long-term sleeping issues that will need medical intervention; this can include:
As we know, alcohol is a sedative and will affect your entire body, including your muscles. This allows the opportunity for your airways to close easier and frequently throughout the night while you are asleep.
This can further significantly increase the likelihood of sleep apnea, especially if an individual is to drink heavily within the last few hours before they fall asleep.
Parasomnias and sleepwalking
Alcoholic dependence is known to experience a frequent amount of movement and the possibility of talking while asleep. There is a high possibility that individuals will physically act out their dreams and even begin sleepwalking around their room and possibly their apartment.
Nightmares or vivid dreams
Alcohol is known to disrupt your sleep cycle significantly and interfere severely with your REM sleep. Research done by the London Sleep Centre shows that the more we drink, the less REM sleep we get. Instead of dreaming like we usually would, the alcohol increases the likelihood of the individual snoring, creating a sense of unconsciousness that can bring on a blacking sensation after drinking heavily. Many individuals will mistake blacking out as having a good night’s sleep, but in fact, it is the complete opposite.
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Understanding alcohol addiction negatively impacts your sleep, and long-term health will help you on your road to recovery. The best way to overcome addiction is to understand what your body and mind may go through. Learning to live without alcohol will never be easy, especially within the first couple of weeks; however, the outcome will always be worth it.