Alcohol and Sleep

Do you typically finish out your evenings with glass of wine, beer or even a shot to ease into sleep?

Consuming alcohol near bedtime can have a powerful, negative impact on your sleep quantity and quality. The effect of alcohol on sleep are apparently not common knowledge. 58 percent of 20,000 respondents were unaware that drinking can be detrimental to sleep.

Alcohol generally acts as a sedative and a small amount can and will induce sleepiness. Essentially, alcohol function as a rapidly absorbed, relatively fast acting drug that gets to your brain within a few minutes. The drug metabolizes quickly and its effect pass within a few hours, depending on how much alcohol you consumed.

Using alcohol to get to sleep is by no means a new concept. Despite advances in sleep medicine, many people with trouble initiating or maintaining sleep self-medicate with alcohol and accept the consequences of fitful or unfulifilling sleep. In fact, it was not that long ago that physicians recommended “night caps” for insomniacs or others experiencing sleep problems. Using alcohol for sleep is a bad idea because it can affect sleep stages, lighten sleep and causes abrupt awakenings. Chronic use of alcohol may lead to needing higher and higher doses to achieve the same sleep-inducing effect.

 Alcohol and Sleep Stages

How does alcohol influence or change your sleep?  

Alters the quality of your sleep. Even if you sleep a full night after drinking, you may not feel rested in the morning. Alcohol lightens sleep and suppresses REM.

Disrupts the total time you are asleep. You may wake up frequently throughout the night and have problem falling back asleep as the alcohol works through your system.

Increases the prevalence of pre-existing sleep disorders. Millions of Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, which can intensify after alcohol consumption. Sleep apnea is a breathing related sleep disorder, characterized by heavy snoring and abnormal pauses in breathing. Moderate to large amounts of alcohol consumed in the evening lead to a substantial narrowing of the airway, increaing the frequency and duration of breath holding episodes.

The Sleep Cycle 

Normal sleep consists of four stages that cycle throughout the night. Sleep scientists have not determined all of the functions of sleep or the value of the various stages. All sleep stages are important and it is not possible to place more value on one stage or another.

N1. The first step into sleep, N1 accounts for 4-5 percent of nightly sleep and functions as the brief transition period between sleep and wakefulness.

N2. A more consolidate stage, during which time your breathing pattern and heart rate begin to slow.

N3. Commonly known as “deep sleep” this is the stage when your body and brain are undergoing restoration.

REM.  During REM sleep we often have action packed dreams. Parts of our brain are most active during the REM phase of sleep. Our muscles are essentially paralyzed during REM, preventing us from acting out dreams.

Tips for Sleeping Well Without Alcohol

Worried that sacrificing that glass of wine will lead to all nighters? Try out few sleep tips below to kick the nightcap habit.

  1.  Sleep/Wake consistency. Your sleep routine should be as consistent as your personal hygiene routine. Just like you brush your teeth and comb your hair in a certain order each morning, try to maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle by going to bed around the same time every night and waking up around the same time every morning (yes, evening on weekends).
  2. Get moving! Exercise is a good way to reduce stress. Exercising in the late afternoon or early evening raises your core body temperature above normal. Your temperature will start falling by bedtime and this natural decrease in body heat helps initiate the sleep process.
  3. Let the light shine in the morning. While you probably know that light tells the brain it is time to wake up, it also helps set your internal sleep/wake clock. Try eating breakfast outside – sunlight exposure for just 30 minutes in the morning should help you stay alert throughout the day.
  4. Kick your caffeine habit.  It’s no secret that caffeine is a stimulant. Avoid coffee, soda and tea after 2 p.p. If you need a natural boost, sip on a glass of ice water.

If you are concerned about the impact alcohol has on your sleep, discontinue drinking within a few hours of bedtime. In general, it takes about an hour to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. If your sleep problems persist despite your best effort, talk with your family physician.

Effects of Drinking Alcohol at Bedtime

1) The Rebound effect: wide awake at 4 am

A night on the booze will most likely cause you to sleep deeper during the first part of the night, but later on the chances are you will be more restless than usual. This is known as the rebound effect, and is the reason why drinkers often find themselves wide awake in the early hours of the morning.

Alcohol is a fast acting drug entering the bloodstream quickly and reaching the brain within minutes. But the effects are short lived. The liver quickly metabolises the alcohol and any sleepiness you felt quickly wears off. Once your BAC goes down, sleep variables are reversed, manifesting itself as disturbed sleep.

2) Pills and booze: the multiplying effect

Combining prescription drugs with drinking is asking for trouble. But when your pills happen to be sleep medications, the effects can be greater than the sum of it’s parts. Alcohol and sleeping pills can lead to an increased risk of accidents, overdoses and even worse. Get it wrong and his deadly cocktail can end up killing you.

3) Sweeting like a pig

Alcohol is a chemical substance that can cause vasodilation, ie the  widening of your blood vessels. When blood vessels close to the skin enlarge, the skin becomes warm. In order to maintain an optimum body temperature, your sweat glands kick into action, letting heat escape in the form of perspiration.

4) You’re more likely to snore… or worse

Alcohol has many effect, including acting as a muscle relaxant. Sleep apnea, a sleep-related breathing disorder affects millions of people around the world, and is caused by the throat and airway muscles collapsing at night during sleep. If you already suffer from sleep apnea, alcohol (by means of relaxing your breathing muscles) increases the chances of making your symptoms worse (( Alcohol, snoring and sleep apnea.

5) It makes you pee – a lot

The three things that drink provokes are nose-painting, sleep, and urine. So why does boozing make you pee so much? It’s not just the result of liquid passing through the body. Alcohol is a potent diuretic ie it makes you urinate more than you would when drinking the equivalent volume of non-alcoholic drinks.

6) It’s worse if you’re female

These gender differences could be down tho the fact that women metabolize alcohol more quickly than men, meaning that the  sedative properties of a late night drink water off more easily, causing women to feel the second, more fragmented part of their sleep more quickly. Women Objectively had fewer hours of sleep, woke more frequently and more minutes during the night, and had more disrupted sleep than men.

7) Say goodnight to your dreams

While we still don’t understand fully the mechanisms of how and why we dream, recent research shows that our dreams may play a crucial role in maintaining the normal function of human physiology and brain function. One theory is that because during REM, certain neurotransmitters like serotonin are effectively switched off, we use this period of our sleep to replenish or reset the vital brain chemicals.

8) It increases your chances of sleep -walking

Sleepwalking, or somnambulism is a type of parasomnia, one of many types of abnormal sleep behavior.  It most commonly occurs  during NREM, in the first part of night. Although sleepwalkers show a genetic predisposition toward the condition, according to the National Sleep Foundation, factors that increase the chances of sleepwalking include fatigue, sedative medications and alcohol. High levels of alcohol in the blood dramatically increase the amount of slow-wave sleep (SWS) you get at night, which is consistent with sleepwalking episodes, which often include quite complex, often bizarre behaviours.