What You Need To Know About Sleep And Alcohol – Full Guide

You’ve had a long and busy day. A drink or two will help you sleep… won’t it?…

Alcohol might help you nod off, but even just a couple of drinks can affect the quality of your sleep. If you’re regularly drinking more than the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines by consuming more than 14 units a week you may find you wake up the next day feeling like you haven’t had any rest at all.

Most adults need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep a night. However this guide is aimed at people without an addiction so things such as medication or lifestyle factors may mean that this number is slightly higher or lower so we suggest that you use your own judgment.

How alcohol affects your sleep patterns

Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle.

Several sleepless nights have an impact on our day-to-day mental health, for example, on our mood, concentration and decision-making. And while alcohol might help some people nod off, even a couple of drinks can affect the quality of our sleep. If you’re regularly drinking more than the CMO’s drinking guidelines, you may find you wake up the next day feeling like you have had much very little rest if any at all. Regularly drinking alcohol can disrupt sleep. For example, a heavy drinking session of more than six units can make us spend more time in deep sleep and less time than usual in the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. This is an important restorative stage of sleep that our bodies need to heal, process information and emotional states, help us form new memories from that day. Not only is it important to get restful sleep but is also highly important for our mental health too by allowing our bodies to process stress or distress from that day, reduce hormones and chemicals in our body that are produced when we are stressed or upset. However not getting our body and mind into REM sleep can leave us feeling tired, unproductive, low mood, less likely to cope with stressful situations as well as interfering with the way we interact socially with others the next day – no matter how long we stay in bed if it isn’t including the REM phase of sleep.

However having alcohol-free days can help if you are able to. If you are currently chronically drinking alcohol all day every day then even just reducing your alcohol intake will help which is why keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum or getting into a detox program can be really beneficial not only for your body but also your mind. You should be sleeping better and find it easier to wake up in the morning the less alcohol you drink. If you want to get into a detox program then you will need to speak to your nearest Drug And Alcohol Service.

You can find out where your nearest service is by visiting our help and support page.

Drinking can equal a disturbed night’s sleep

When you drink more than usual, either at weekends or daily, you may have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. It’s not just the alcohol you’ve drunk that you’ll be getting rid of. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid through sweat too, making you dehydrated and causing other long term health problems if you drink daily.

Drinking can also make you snore loudly as it relaxes the muscles in your body, which means the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose can stop air flowing smoothly, and is more likely to vibrate causing snoring.

So, all in all alcohol can equal a poor night’s sleep. Also for the following reasons:

  • Snoring can not only disturb others around you but can also cause you to wake up more often, disturbing your sleep patterns.
  • Getting up to urinate more often in the night disturbs both you and the other people in your household, disturbing your sleep and theirs.
  • Less quality sleep can cause you to feel tired, have low mood, be more forgetful, can cause problems retaining memories and information and can make any current mental health conditions worse, causing a downwards spiral to drink more which then makes your mental health worse, so you drink more and so on making your situation worse.

Why Should You Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime?

If you’re drinking alcohol, try to avoid it too close to your chosen bedtime. This gives your body time to process the alcohol you’ve drunk before you try to sleep – on average it takes an hour to process one unit, but this can vary widely from person to person. Chronic drinkers may find this difficult however if you work out a daily plan with a chosen bedtime, aiming to stop drinking as close to your bedtime will help you greatly.

Download the free Drinkaware app to keep track of what you’re drinking over time and set yourself goals for cutting back.

How Does Sleep Work?

The stages of sleep is broken into 4 main parts. More information about each stage can be found below:

Stage One: Within minutes (sometimes even within seconds!) of nodding off, your brain produces what are called alpha and theta waves and your eye movements slow down. This introduction to sleep is relatively brief, lasting up to seven minutes. Here, you are in light stage sleep, which means that you’re somewhat alert and can be easily woken. It’s during this stage of sleep that people often indulge in brief “catnaps.”

Stage Two: During this stage, which is also fairly light, the brain produces sudden increases in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. Then brain waves slow down. If you were to schedule a “power nap” you’d want to wake up after this stage of sleep.

Stages Three & Four: This stage is the beginning of deep sleep, as the brain begins producing slower delta waves. You won’t experience any eye movement or muscle activity. At this point, it becomes a little harder for you to be awakened, because your body becomes less responsive to outside stimuli. The brain produces even more delta waves and you move into an even deeper, more restorative stage of sleep next. It’s most difficult to wake up during this stage. This is when the body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, boosts immune function, and builds up energy for the next day.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: You generally enter REM sleep about 90 minutes after initially falling asleep, and each REM stage can last up to an hour. An average adult has five to six REM cycles each night. During this final phase of sleep, your brain becomes more active. This is when most dreaming occurs, your eyes jerk quickly in different directions (hence, the name!), heart rate and blood pressure increase, and breathing becomes fast, irregular, and shallow. REM sleep plays an important role in learning and memory function, since this is when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day before so that it can be stored in your long-term memory.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Some things to try if you want to sleep soundly and wake up feeling fresh:

  • Stay away from caffeine, energy drinks and alcohol late in the evening. Try a hot, milky or herbal drink instead. This may help you to relax and unwind before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool and uncluttered and your bed is comfortable. Open a window or use a fan if your room becomes hot and sweaty.
  • Take gentle exercise, meditation or mindfulness exercises to relieve the day’s stresses and tensions.
  • Make lists, notes or reminders of things needing to be done the next day before you go to bed, so they’re not disturbing you when you try to sleep.
  • Wear loose, breathable cotton or similar clothing in bed. You may prefer to sleep naked or just in underwear so do whatever works for you.
  • Don’t go to bed when you have had arguments, fights or disputes with others that aren’t settled. Not only will they disturb you when getting off to sleep but may help you to not end up having regrets should you not be able to resolve them the next day and end up with regrets that you wished you could’ve settled at the time.
  • Try to ensure that the room or area you are sleeping in is dark and quiet. This will not only help you to not be disturbed but will also give you better quality sleep. Use ear plugs or an eye mask if sound or light disturbs your sleep.
  • Make time in your daily plan to get a good amount of sleep and stick to the plan.
  • Turn off your phone, TV or other electronic gadgets at least an hour before your bedtime. Do not sleep with your TV on in the background either as the lights and sounds will disturb your sleep. The blue light emitted from TV’s and gadgets will stimulate you and/or wake you up rather than become sleepy.
  • If you’re not tired at your chosen bedtime, try going outside for a gentle walk. The exercise and fresh air may make you sleepy. You could also try reading a book or magazine.
  • Go to the toilet before you get into bed will help prevent you from needing to go to the toilet in the night and not only disturb your sleep but that of everyone else in your household.
  • Check your doors and windows to make sure that they are locked and secure. The knowledge that you have checked them and they are secure will give you peace of mind to help you relax and also means one less reason to get back out of bed again!
  • Most adults need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep each night so try to keep your bedtime the same each night if possible.
  • If you need to get up early or get home late outside of your normal bedtime, try to work out what time you need to go to sleep so that you get your 6 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Try having a warm bath or shower before bed. The warmth and running water may relax you ready for bed.
  • Getting the right amount of sleep will help your body heal, fight infections, boost your immune system, give you more energy the following day, help you remember and store important new things you have learnt that day, helps your level of concentration, store memories, lower blood pressure and heart rate and help your mental health too just to list a few reasons why sleep is so important!

TIP: If you are new to recovery or have been in recovery for a while, we suggest that you plan and implement fixed bedtimes to include the amount of time that you feel is best for you, wake at the same time and complete your bedtime rituals every night so that your body gets used to your planned times for sleep. We suggest that you write it down (ideally on your structured daily plan). Consistency will be key to your body getting proper quality sleep for your allotted amount of time.

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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