How Alcohol and Alcoholism Affect Sleep

alcohol and sleep

How much do you know about alcohol and sleep? When you are getting restful sleep, of course, it’s easy to take sleep for granted. However, if you’ve ever struggled with insomnia, you may have a deeper appreciation for how vital sleep is to your overall health and wellbeing.

Sleep does not just make the difference between feeling tired or not tired, when a person’s sleep is poor, they are at an increased risk for numerous health problems including diabetes, heart disease, depression, and obesity. High-quality sleep is vital, and having healthy sleeping habits (also referred to as ‘sleep hygiene’) can help ensure that you get the high-quality sleep that your body needs. Alcohol and sleep issues often go hand in hand. Some people consume alcohol at night to unwind or help them feel drowsy. And while alcohol can act as a sedative that slows down brain activity, there is research to suggest that alcohol consumption generally has a negative impact on sleep quality.  In fact, between 35% to 70% of individuals who use alcohol have insomnia (Angarita, G. A., Emadi, N., Hodges, S., & Morgan, P. T. (2016). Sleep abnormalities associated with alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and opiate use: a comprehensive review. Addiction science & clinical practice, 11(1), 9).

It’s often surprising to discover that, considering alcohol is a depressant, it is known to interfere with the fundamental aspects of sleep quality.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as either a problem falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep; any or all of which result in an overall loss of sleep. The loss of sleep is enough to cause problems in day-to-day life and is occurring at least 3 nights per week for over 3 months.

Insomnia is a common problem and the most common of all sleep disorders, with an estimated one-third of American adults reporting insomnia symptoms. Estimates suggest that almost 10% of people in the United States struggle with short-term insomnia. And of those, around 20% will develop chronic insomnia which can last for years.

Not sleeping enough carries significant consequences, risks, and can even be potentially dangerous. Decreased attention and concentration as a lack of sleep is common, and persistent insomnia is associated with an increased risk of depression, hypertension, and heart attacks. Those with insomnia may miss work, have reduced productivity, and experience an overall reduced quality of life.

If a person is tired due to insomnia, they are also at increased risk for accidents. One study found that people with insomnia had more than a 20% risk of an accident in their home over the past year, over a 10% risk of a work-related accident, 9% fell asleep while driving, and over 4% had a car accident related to their insomnia.

As such, people with insomnia often try to self-treat the condition. An estimated 15% to 30% of people report drinking to manage insomnia. While alcohol can initially cause sedation, over time, alcohol causes major disruptions in the quality of sleep.

Can Alcohol Cause Insomnia?

Alcohol can both promote and hinder sleep. The negative impact of alcohol on sleep varies and is dose related. The prevalence of insomnia for those struggling with alcohol dependence is estimated at between 36% and 91%, which is well above average. Research has also associated binge drinking with disrupted sleep. Specific brain cells in the forebrain promote a state of wakefulness. Alcohol appears to inhibit neurotransmitters that activate these brain cells. This can disturb the whole sleep-wake cycle, disrupting sleep and potentially predisposing a person to insomnia.

Alcohol’s Effects on REM Sleep

Sleep has two basic types: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Alcohol consumption has been shown to potentially disrupt virtually all aspects of sleep, including both REM and non-REM sleep.  These sleep quality issues can continue for months or years into a person’s sobriety, but may improve over time.

Why Does Alcohol Make Me Sleepy?

Since alcohol has sedating effects, it can make people feel sleepy. One of the main effects of alcohol is on enhancing the function of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. In basic words, GABA slows everything down. This slowing of brain activity can contribute to a sense of tiredness, making a person feel more sleepy.

And while this may seem like a reason to use alcohol to manage insomnia, with continued use, you quickly develop a tolerance to alcohol’s sedating effects. This rapid development of tolerance is associated with increased self-administration of alcohol before bedtime, which could potentially escalate to an alcohol use disorder or full blown alcoholism.

How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Affect Sleep?

For people struggling with alcohol dependence, insomnia and disturbed sleep are a common symptom of withdrawal. Estimates suggest between 36% and 72% of people in withdrawal from alcohol have insomnia. During withdrawal and recovery, it is harder to fall asleep and total sleep time decreases. Deep sleep can also be reduced.

At The Lighthouse Bali, we offer a medically assisted detox which is the most comfortable way to withdraw from alcohol. Our medically assisted detox will also help you with your ability to sleep during your withdrawal period.

Is Fear of Insomnia Holding You Back From Recovery?

If you, or someone you know is drinking heavily due to sleep problems, or has a fear of insomnia which is preventing them from getting sober, get in touch. The sooner help is sought, the easier it is.

As part of our highly successful holistic primary care recovery program, your personal recovery team will also give you guidance and tools to deal with any sleep issues and to improve your sleep hygiene.

Are you ready to get your life back on track? Reach out in confidence today:

Our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction and moving on. To talk to one of our team members, contact us on WhatsApp or by Phone or via email. We will either answer your questions in writing or call you back, according to your preference – contact us.

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