Can Alcohol Consumption Impair Sleep?

Can Alcohol Consumption Impair Sleep?

Alcohol consumption at any level can cause sleep disturbances and induce sleep disorders. Drinking alcohol may disrupt the structure and duration of sleep, alter sleep time, and impact the time required to fall asleep. It is hard to understand why the body needs sleep but we know it is linked to serious health problems including increased risk of depressive disorders, heart health, and other issues. Learn more about how alcohol consumption may impair sleep and how to navigate this challenge.

Normal Sleep Patterns

A normal sleep pattern consists of two alternating states of sleep where brain waves exhibit different types of activity: slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Research has identified a transitional, lighter sleep period, which occurs in the middle. Typically REM sleep occurs during sleep time and accounts for 25 percent of sleep for young adults. REM sleep is less restful and usually associated with dreaming. Science does not know what function REM sleep performs for the body, but it seems to be required for restoration.

How Brain Controls Sleep

Sleep was originally thought to be a result of decreased activity in the brain’s systems that maintained wakefulness, but research has shown sleep is an active brain process controlled by nerve centers in the lower brain stem. Some nerve stems produce serotonin. Other nerve cells produce norepinephrine, which has been found to regulate REM sleep and facilitate arousal. Alcohol consumption alters the function of these messengers and, therefore, alters sleep.

Alcohol and Sleep Patterns

When people drink before bed, it is usually to help them fall asleep. Alcohol’s sedating effects can reduce the time required to fall asleep. Research shows alcohol consumed within an hour of bedtime will disrupt sleep in the second half of the sleep period, causing fitful sleep. Other issues with drinking and sleep include:

  • Consumption six hours before bedtime may increase wakefulness in the second half of sleep
  • Long-lasting changes may occur over a long period of consumption
  • Chronic alcohol use appears to be linked to increased risk for sleep apnea
  • Drinking moderate to high amounts of alcohol before sleep may narrow the air passages, causing episodes of apnea
  • Increased risk of heart attack, arrhythmia, stroke, and sudden death may also occur

Drinking, Withdrawal, and Sleep

For people with severe alcohol use disorders, sleep disturbances included longer periods of time to fall asleep, frequent waking up, decreased quality of sleep, and fatigue during daytime hours. It is reasonable to think people with alcohol use disorder who quit drinking may return to normal sleep patterns. Lack of sleep can occur for people going through alcohol withdrawal once they stop drinking.

Once a person recovers from alcoholism, their symptoms of not being able to sleep well may subside. For some people, however, a good night’s rest may never fully return. For those who sleep poorly, there may be ways to help mitigate symptoms with the help of a treating physician. It is imperative people find the right support for treating alcoholism and seek ways of managing their care holistically.

The Palmetto Center is based on a Therapeutic Community model. We help people learn how to live free of addiction. Our community support provides structure while trained counselors offer life skills training and therapeutic techniques to help you move past addiction. Our program provides special focus for professionals including chiropractors, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and more who need help with addiction recovery. Call us to find out more: 866-848-3001.