Excessive alcohol use can wreak havoc on your sleeping patterns for a number of reasons. While some people may believe that alcohol aids in being able to sleep, it actually creates the opposite effect and can seriously disturb your sleeping patterns.
So what happens to your sleep cycle after consuming alcohol? Alcohol can throw you right into a deep sleep, which sounds good, but this can cause your brain not to achieve the proper REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) it needs for a proper sleep cycle. According to ScienceDaily.com, alcohol can disrupt the brain’s natural cycling states, which throughout the night switch between REM and NREM. If REM is not met, it will cause you to experience extreme tiredness the next day because you did not meet those required cycles of sleep. This is another reason why you may feel extremely hung over and quite useless after a night of heavy drinking.
While some may still believe that alcohol aids in getting some sleep, “the effect of consolidating sleep in the first half of the night is offset by having more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night.”  Even if you have gotten 7 to 8 hours of sleep, you still may be confused as to why you’re still feeling exhausted or lethargic. Without even realizing it, you’re disrupting your own sleep patterns by drinking.
Along with feeling extremely tired the next day, sleep disturbances can have serious physical side effects on the body, resulting in physical stress, increased risk for illness such as heart disease, distraction throughout the day, slowed reflexes, and exhaustion. The side effects caused by lack of sleep become worse in cases where the person has been heavily drinking for years on end.
Alcohol drinking can also cause sleep disorders to become worse, such as sleep apnea or other breathing disorders. Experts from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claim that “moderate to high doses of alcohol consumed in the evening can lead to the narrowing of air passages causing episodes of apnea even in persons who do not otherwise exhibit symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, (OSA).”  According to an article called Alcohol and Sleep on About.com, this can occur because alcohol is a well known depressant, which can cause an increase in the duration of periods of apnea or making it worse.  For these reasons it’s very important that someone try to stop or cut back their drinking behaviors, as sleep is essential to a healthy life, especially if you’re trying to overcome an alcohol problem.
Broken sleep patterns after substance use are not always easy to overcome. Just because someone stops drinking does not mean the body will fall 100 percent back into proper sleeping patterns right away. It may take some time to restore normal sleep cycles so that you will feel rested and no longer fatigued. If you are thinking about detoxing from alcohol first, studies have shown that sometimes the withdrawal of alcohol from the body can interrupt sleep patterns.  This will not last forever, but you may temporarily experience an inability to sleep or insomnia, as well as increased time required to fall asleep, lower sleep quality, or frequent awakenings, which can lead to being fatigued throughout the day.
After the withdrawal and detox process, your brain can begin readjusting to sleep patterns without the influence of alcohol. It is very important to take care of yourself after overcoming alcohol use, and get adequate amounts of sleep. If you’re having a difficult time trying to sleep a few months after being sober, you may want to try some natural alternatives such as exercising, meditation, herbal teas or making sure your mattress and pillows offer proper support. In the end, your life will get better after alcohol use. If you work hard toward your goals and stay on the right path you can get your old life, and your sleep patterns, back to normal.
Melissa is the Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator for Saint Jude Retreats, a residential retreat program for people seeking to overcome alcohol and drugs. As well as writing for St. Jude’s, Melissa also enjoys writing about topics that include health and relationships. If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, call 1.888.424.2626 or click here for more information.
 Aldrich, M.S. Effects of alcohol on sleep. In: Lisansky Gomberg, E.S., et al., eds. Alcohol Problems and Aging. NIAAA Research Monograph No. 33. NIH Pub. No. 98-4163. Bethesda, MD: NIAAA, in press.
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