How Does Alcohol Affect Your Sleep?

Many American adults experience difficulty sleeping for a number of different reasons, which can manifest in the form of restlessness, tossing and turning, or a complete onset of insomnia. Sleep deprivation is devastating to the body, and the daily life routines of individuals, so I’m sure you can imagine that very few people are able to handle sleep deprivation with patience and grace whenever it hits them. 

This usually results in a variety of creative rituals, exercises, and routines to get sleep back on track, but not all of them are healthy or productive measures. Out of all the various methods of self-medicating when someone has trouble sleeping, the most frequently chosen solution is alcohol consumption. Does it work? Sure, if you consume enough alcohol you will most definitely fall asleep, one way or another, but is that a good thing? Does alcohol affect your sleep in any positive or negative ways? We will discuss this in detail in the article below.

Your Body And Alcohol

As many people should know by now, alcohol is a highly addictive substance. For men, consuming as little as 5-6 alcoholic beverages in a week is enough to develop a habit forming dependence on it, and the negative impacts to your health slowly begin to manifest after only a short period of routine consumption. One of the most common misconceptions behind the frequent consumption of alcohol is that drinking helps people cope with stress. Unfortunately, this is something that only feels true. After consuming a few alcoholic beverages, people will begin to experience feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and sometimes happiness due to the release of serotonin in the brain. This is why so many people self-medicate with alcohol, especially when they have trouble sleeping. However, what people fail to realize is that they are not offsetting the effects of stress by drinking, but enhancing them. Stress releases cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout your body, resulting in all of the wonderful side effects we’re all familiar with, and drinking alcohol reduces the body’s physiological response to stress. This is a good thing, right?

No, not at all. While the body’s response to cortisol is buffered or numbed to the effects of the stress hormone, the devastating effects of alcohol on your body actually cause your body to release even more cortisol than before. This unfortunate side effect ultimately compounds the levels of stress your body experiences, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the good feelings provided by the alcohol consumption eventually wear off, leaving you with a jet stream of cortisol coursing through your body. 

Stress by itself is already anecdotally viewed as humanity’s number one killer, and adding alcohol to the equation makes it infinitely worse. Alcohol consumption is linked to a large sum of known diseases in America, and contributes greatly to high blood pressure, dehydration, heart disease, stroke, obesity, kidney failure, and the list goes on. In fact, after several decades of battling myths and bad research, medical researchers have only recently announced that alcohol provides absolutely zero health benefits to the human body.

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Now that we have discussed the overall menacing qualities of alcohol as a substance, we can now discuss the effects it can have on your sleep. As mentioned previously, many people turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate when they’re experiencing difficulty sleeping, but what about people who only drink casually throughout their week? In both cases, many of the same effects will take place as a hindrance to their restorative sleep quality, but certain factors can lessen or worsen them.

This is mostly due to the fact that alcohol causes insomnia, both as a side effect and a withdrawal symptom, because alcohol disrupts your brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body to go to sleep. Take a sharp decline in melatonin, add a spike in cortisol levels, and the result is insomnia. For those luckier individuals who do fall asleep, they can expect to experience heightened symptoms of sleep apnea, and a tremendous negative impact on Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) sleep. 

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where the airway in your throat relaxes to the point where it collapses when you sleep and disrupts your breathing. The airway in your throat is supported by muscles, and with alcohol being an effective muscle relaxer, the airway closes more than it normally would. This outcome exacerbates the effects of the disorder to a life-altering level. REM sleep is the stage of sleep where your body receives the most restorative benefits, and when you experience the most vivid of dreams. Studies have shown that alcohol reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, and sometimes prevents you from reaching the REM stage altogether. If this interference takes place, you will wake up feeling tired and weak due to the impact on your restorative sleep quality. 

In summary, if alcohol consumption does not result in insomnia, you can expect the impact on your sleep to be significant. While you may fall asleep, your body will not receive the full benefits of a restful night of sleep. Therefore, over time your body will have to endure the direct effects of alcohol consumption along with the continuous sleep deprivation. Additionally, prolonged patterns of habitual consumption of alcohol will cause these effects to compound over time as your growing tolerance will require you to drink more and more.  

American Treatment Network in Havertown, PA

If your or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, it may be time to consider alcohol treatment with a specialized clinic. American Treatment Network is a treatment and rehabilitation clinic that uses evidence-based therapy and treatment to help people overcome their battle with addiction, and provide the mental health services needed to help prevent a relapse. To schedule a tour of our clinic in Havertown, PA or one of our other convenient locations in Pennsylvania or Delaware, please visit our website today, and get started on the path to recovery. 


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