Alcohol has been historically used as a depressant, helping people rest and relax for around 9,000 years. Its obvious effects on our motor skills (such as slurred speech and slowed reaction time) allow many of us to fall asleep only moments after our heads hit our pillows. But it is actually more common to find people who actually can’t sleep after drinking, or at least who can’t enter REM sleep, which is considered to be the most important part of a night’s rest. People might find that alcohol does help them fall asleep, but since REM sleep usually begins after 90 minutes of sleep, the effects of alcohol on sleep that they experience occur during the second half of the night.
Getting enough sleep is imperative to maintaining good bodily health. The seemingly harmless effects of alcohol on sleep can be more disruptive to your life than originally thought. Sleep-deprivation can affect your work and social life, as well as your respiratory and mental health. There are correlations between self-deprivation and obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, forgetfulness, dementia, and much more. Getting enough restorative sleep is also a key factor in recovering from a variety of maladies, including the flu, muscle injuries, infections, and even drug addiction.
It can also be dangerous for those driving on the road. The National Highway Driving Administration states that driving while sleep-deprived has an annual average of, “almost 886 fatal crashes (2.5% of all fatal crashes), an estimated 37,000 injury crashes, and an estimated 45,000 property damage only crashes.” Also, according to Occupational and Environmental Medicine, “Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.”
So what does the combination of alcohol and sleep have on your body, and why are there so many people who can’t sleep after drinking?
Alcohol and Sleep Apnea
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning drinking it causes the muscles in your body to relax. The connection between alcohol and sleep apnea can be seen when the upper muscles in your throat become so relaxed that they inhibit the airflow into your lungs, causing disrupted breathing, or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA.)
Although the effects of alcohol on sleep can also result in minor snoring, OSA is much more serious. This condition, which often goes unnoticed, has shown to damage cardiovascular and metabolic health. Alcohol and sleep apnea can also cause type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even a heart attack or stroke.
Alcohol and Insomnia
One of the most common effects of alcohol on sleep is insomnia, sleepwalking, snoring, and, as discussed above, obstructive sleep apnea. The reason people can’t sleep after drinking is that the alcohol causes irregularities in our circadian rhythm, or our internal clock. Our circadian rhythm, which is typically influenced by the amount of natural light within our 24-hour days, is what tells us when we should be asleep and when we should be awake. Alcohol and insomnia are connected through the body’s malfunctioning circadian rhythms.
According to Science Daily, these circadian rhythms affect, “brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities.” If it is disrupted, perhaps due to alcohol, a person could experience extreme fatigue throughout the day, difficulty falling asleep, frequent urination at night, waking up from sleep constantly, depression, and even have hypersomnia, in which a person sleeps too much. It can also make people wake up very early in the morning, as part of the “rebound effect,” or when the body shifts from deep sleep into a lighter, more easily disturbed sleep. This can be brought upon by the first light of the day.
Even if a person only has one drink, they are likely to still experience some of these unpleasant effects of alcohol on sleep. Of course, the more drinks a person has, the greater their risk for disrupted sleep is. Unfortunately, some people have difficulty having only one drink, binge drink, or drink alone. These are major symptoms of alcoholism.
Alcoholism is a serious health concern that around 14 million Americans suffer from. The key to recovery is a good support group of loving family and friends, as well as a trustworthy rehab center with experienced doctors who are dedicated to your health and well being. If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, please contact Treatment Centers XL at (720) 600-1043 today. We are here to help and answer any questions that you may have.