29th January, 2015

How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

By Max Kirsten
How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

According to new insomnia sleep research, one in seven of us (and one in four insomniacs) are using alcohol as a sleep aid. Though reaching for the bottle may be an easy way to fall asleep, alcohol before bed can be detrimental to getting a great night’s sleep.  Even at comparatively low levels, the more that we drink, the more alcohol affects our sleep and how we feel the following morning.  Here’s why.

Natural Sleep vs. Alcohol Induced Sleep

Most of us would agree that a few drinks seem to help us fall asleep just fine. However there is a massive difference between falling asleep under the influence of alcohol, and falling asleep naturally which will in fact result in a much better night’s sleep.

Alcohol Disturbs Your Sleep Pattern

Though alcohol has a sedative effect, it interrupts what we call your ‘sleep architecture’. This is the pattern of sleep your brain waves follow overnight. And, it’s by sticking to this pattern that we end up feeling refreshed in the morning. It involves getting the right balance of REM sleep (dreaming sleep) and non–REM sleep (including deep sleep).

Sadly, alcohol disturbs this pattern. Alcohol enhanced sleep means the brain is no longer able to perform its natural restorative processes.  Instead of balancing out, the portion of non-REM sleep increases, while the portion of REM sleep decreases. But, the real problem begins during the second half of the night, when your REM sleep reduces. At this point, your sleep becomes much more disturbed. You may not feel it at first, but when the pattern breaks, you’re heading into a restless night of tossing and turning.

Other Negative Effects

Additionally, alcohol increases your body temperature, dehydration, and feelings of restlessness.  This is down to the toxins produced by the body – as it tries to break down the alcohol in its system. Alcohol can also cause breathing problems overnight. Even small amounts of alcohol can result in slower breathing.  The lining of your throat becomes more swollen, and the muscle tone in your airways is reduced.  As a result, breathing problems including snoring, and sleep apnoea are much more likely to set in. The oxygen deprivation that results can cause you to feel heavy and un-refreshed in the morning.  It can also lead to unwanted weight gain as your metabolism slows down.

Alcohol Before Bed = A Slipery Slope

Some sleep specialists claim that having a single glass of wine before bed is a good approach for insomniacs (but not for the general population). Though this approach may be beneficial for some people with severe sleep problems, I would argue that it’s a ‘slippery slope’.  Think about it. The more alcohol you drink regularly, the more your body becomes immune to alcohol’s sleep inducing qualities. The benefits eventually wear off, leaving you to deal with just the negative impact it has on your sleep.

Natural Sleep – The Best Kind of Sleep

The best type of sleep involves the natural processes of your brain and biological sleep cycles. It is very different to the sedative state induced by alcohol, which suppresses the natural activity of your brain. So if you want a refreshing, wonderful night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid that nightcap!

As a sleep coach, I recommend learning my completely natural ‘ABC of Better Sleep’ technique. It teaches you to relax sequentially, and give up ‘trying’ to sleep. Learn to let go of your thoughts, and drift off naturally into deep, refreshing sleep. You can learn more about the ABC sleep app here.

I wish you a great night’s sleep.