Alcohol and sleep: everything you always wanted to know

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Alcohol and sleep – is it really that bad? Why do we always wake up at 3am, 4am, 5am? Does alcohol cause insomnia? Why can’t I sleep after drinking? All these questions, and more will be answered by the end of this article. Cheers to that, right?

Alcohol and sleep

1: Why can’t I sleep after drinking alcohol? Why do I wake up at 3am after drinking?

  1. Alcohol limits REM sleep. The Handbook of Clinical Neurology notes alcohol limits our ability to enter REM sleep. As REM sleep usually occurs between 3-7am, if you’ve consumed alcohol the night before, you’re probably going to wake up. Note that it’s normal to wake once through the night, but it’s not normal to wake more. If you suspect you have insomnia for this reason, ask yourself, how often am I drinking alcohol before bed?
  2. Alcohol produces the rebound effect. Another reason you can’t sleep after alcohol, and again, one that causes nighttime wake ups. Essentially, when the sedative effects of alcohol have worn off, the central nervous system attempts to ‘rebound’ to homeostasis. However, akin to a jack in the box, this doesn’t happen in a linear fashion – initially, the body overproduces stimulating hormones like cortisol. As a result, during this period, it’s highly likely you will wake up. Note that this is especially likely at 3am, as this is the time the body normally sees a rise in cortisol, in order to prepare for the next morning.
  3. Alcohol increases brain activity. Several clinical studies report alcohol heightens brain activity during the evening. When considering alcohol and deep sleep, this is a problem. See, for deep sleep to occur, the brain must be in it’s most relaxed state, exhibiting delta brain waves. On the other hand, when the brain is more active, we are more likely to be either awake, or in a light sleep stage. In fact, this is what happens in insomnia – brain activity is amplified through the night, so you can’t sleep properly. The only difference here is that insomnia is for no valid reason – whereas your sleeping problems may be caused by drinking alcohol.
Alcohol for sleep

2: Why do I snore after drinking?

Alcohol relaxes the muscles around the airways, which leads them to collapse. As a result, this restricts airflow and leads to snoring.

3. Can I have one or two drinks and sleep well?

As I noted in my book, Bear, Lion, Wolf, even just one or two drinks count. This small amount can compromise sleep quality by 9 per cent and leaves you more fatigued in the morning.

3. Alcohol and sleep – anything else left to know?

  1. Alcohol’s main ingredient is sugar, which contributes to sleeping problems and insomnia in itself.
  2. REM sleep, suppressed by alcohol, enables memory storage and emotional regulation. This is in part why after a boozy night, you’re forgetful and moody.
  3. Long term, alcohol reduces sleep quality, contributes to memory impairment and alters sleep architecture.

Final thoughts

I’ll be honest – I love an Aperol Spritz in the sun as much as any Italian. But – I am mindful to limit it, otherwise I will, undoubtably, suffer the consequences of alcohol and sleep – as listed above. Alas – if you are going to drink, be conscious and careful of your consumption. And if you can’t, then do yourself a favour and stick to H20.

Olivia x

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smart, savvy and more than just a sleep expert.

Hi, I'm Olivia.

If you want raw, real and unfiltered Olivia, my blog is where you'll find it.
As an author and avid writer, I find immense pleasure in sharing the ins and outs - without holding back - of my journey through life.
Professionally, I'm a sleep expert - but i'm guessing you already know that.
Personally, I'm a free-flowing, idealistic introvert who loves to travel, dance and enjoy an Aperol Spritz.

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