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Addiction Behavior Circadian Clock/Rhythm Glossary

How Alcohol Addiction Affects Your Sleep

1 year, 11 months ago

10457  0
Posted on Aug 11, 2022, 3 p.m.

Reports suggest that alcohol is the culprit in about 5% of all annual deaths. That means that one in 20 people die from it each year. Some meet their end as a result of alcohol poisoning. However, most people pass away due to medical conditions directly correlated with it. Furthermore, car accident deaths are also common among those driving under the influence.

And while doctors agree that a glass of wine now and then is good for one's body, the same cannot be said about regular alcohol consumption. Or rather, addiction. Alcohol addiction affects one's whole body but seems to hit the digestive and nervous systems the hardest. Now, how alcohol addiction affects your sleep exactly has been the topic of many studies. This article brings forth the findings researchers have stumbled upon.

The Adverse Effects of Overconsumption of Alcohol on One’s Sleep

Many people seek comfort in alcohol because it helps them sleep better. But does it really? Let's see precisely how alcohol addiction affects your sleep!

It Disrupts Sleep Stages

Normal sleep cycles consist of three stages: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. While each stage has a role of its own, in general, the deep sleep and REM phase play the most critical roles in restoring physical and cognitive functions.

Early on in one's slumber, alcohol acts as a sort of sedative that promotes deep sleep. However, as its effects begin to wear off, the percentage of light sleep increases. Light sleep, while a standard component of the cycle, doesn't provide as much rest as its deep counterpart does. Furthermore, during this phase, waking up is rather easy, making awakenings in the middle of the night quite frequent. Therefore, those who consume alcohol before bed tend to log fewer hours a night.

There are no clear findings on how precisely alcoholism affects the REM stage, which a body should naturally enter every 90 minutes. However, scientists seem to agree on one: it decreases the time spent in the REM phase. Unfortunately, when the body doesn't get enough REM sleep over a prolonged period, the risk of cognitive decline and dementia increases immensely.

On the other hand, people who consume too much alcohol regularly may develop a tolerance to its early sleepy effects.

According to studies, chronic alcohol users also typically have disturbed sleep patterns, with less deep and light sleep and more REM sleep.

Exacerbated Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is How Alcohol Addiction Affects Your Sleep

There is extensive evidence to support the fact that alcohol abuse worsens the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. Both are considered breathing problems that occur as a result of the over-relaxation of muscles at the back of the throat. Once these muscles relax to the point of blocking the airway, in mild cases, snoring noises develop, while in more severe, the apnea.

Alcohol, in general, is known to have relaxing effects on muscles. That means that if one indulges in it before sleep, they would have a higher chance of experiencing breathing difficulties in the middle of the night. Furthermore, those with a history of snoring and sleep apnea can only notice their symptoms exacerbating after drinking close to bedtime.

The situation is even worse for regular drinkers. Numbers show that every 1 in 4 people with an alcohol addiction has difficulty breathing mid-sleep and, therefore, difficulty sleeping. While micro-awakenings caused by pauses in breathing, for instance, aren't something that might fully awaken someone, they are still enough to alter sleep stages and, with it, normal sleep progression.

It Disrupts the Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm is a repeating internal process that runs 24 hours and is responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. Close to bedtime, our bodies release the melatonin hormone as part of this rhythm. Melatonin, otherwise known as the ''sleep hormone'', is what makes us ''sleepy'' at night. It sends signals to our brain telling us it's time for rest. The higher the melatonin levels, the more drowsy we feel. However, how alcohol addiction affects your sleep can be seen in precisely the levels of this hormone. Studies have shown that those who indulge in alcohol regularly tend not to produce as much melatonin as they should.

Now, an individual who's a heavy drinker might not have trouble falling asleep. But a decrease in melatonin will undoubtedly worsen the quality of sleep, which could lead to multiple nighttime awakenings, among other problems.

Alcohol Addiction Worsens the Existing Sleeping Problems

Countless people deal with sleeping problems of some sort. And many of them rely on alcohol to sweep these problems away. Unfortunately for many, not only does alcohol consumption not solve their issues, but it worsens them!

For instance, those having trouble sleeping might, at one point, reach for a glass or bottle as a way to ''cure'' their insomnia. While they will probably be able to fall asleep, the quality of their sleep will not be up to the standards. They will wake up feeling more tired than usual, and there the vicious cycle begins. The vicious cycle of using alcohol as a sleeping aid does nothing but exacerbate the existing disturbed sleeping patterns.

Is It OK to Drink Mildly Before Bed?

Now that you know how alcohol addiction affects your sleep, you may be wondering if it's OK to drink before going to bed if you know your limits. In all honesty, the answer is no. Studies show that even small amounts of alcohol can affect sleeping patterns and lead to restless night episodes. If you are having trouble sleeping, we encourage you to start developing healthy sleeping habits rather than turn to alcohol. Create a relaxing environment in your bedroom and stick to a sleeping schedule!


Author's Bio: Hannah Pierce is a recovering alcoholic dedicated to helping those struggling with addiction. She is a volunteer at Bright Futures Treatment Center in Boynton Beach, FL, bent on using her personal story as a motivation for others. The majority of her free time she spends nestled at home with her three dogs and two cats.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.

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