We’re generally told it’s best to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. But what if you have a hard time falling asleep? Will alcohol help you sleep? Many people do use alcohol to help them fall asleep. The quality of your sleep however, is greatly disrupted. It is not restorative sleep and you don’t wake up feeling refreshed. You just end up tired, edgy, and dream deprived!
Pharmacologically speaking, alcohol is classified as a “sedative-hypnotic” just as many prescription sleeping pills are. It definitely flips the off switch in the brain helping you to fall asleep and In fact sleep may be deeper to start with. This is slow wave sleep and it is important. This is when the body should be working on cell repair, damage to the body repair, increasing levels of growth hormone and giving you a feeling of being refreshed when you wake up. After drinking we don’t get to benefit from the extra deep sleep because the sleep cycle phases are so disrupted that the net overall effect is a less restorative night. You are also more likely to snore even if you are someone that usually does not snore at all.
Once you are asleep and the alcohol gets metabolized the major disruptions kick in. So around midnight or so you may have multiple awakening, including waking up to go to the bathroom from all the alcohol, and tossing and turning that you may not even remember. Alcohol is a diuretic and so it dehydrates you. In fact, hangovers are caused by the lack of adequate sleep and dehydration that alcohol cause. The fragmented sleep interferes greatly with REM (dream) sleep and causes learning, memory, and focus problems. REM dream sleep is important for consolidating memories and learning from the previous day. Disruptions in REM sleep may cause nightmares or vivid dreams, sweating, and anxiety. Those with sleep apnea need to be even more cautious with alcohol as it is a muscle relaxant and can ease the muscles in the back of your throat more than usual which could cause extra severe sleep apnea symptoms.
Alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole nights sleep. It makes it hard for you to stay asleep and sleep well. Some people even build up a tolerance to the sleep inducing properties of alcohol after just a couple of days. This can happen with prescription sleeping pills as well. They are not meant to be used long term! It can make you need higher doses to get the same effect and again is not leading to optimal sleep anyway. You certainly should not take sleeping pills and drink alcohol together.
If you are going to drink alcohol only have 1-2 drinks. Finish 3 hours prior to going to bed and drink 8 ounces of water for every alcoholic drink you have. One standard drink is generally considered 8-10 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1-1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits / hard liquor. If you’d like my information on healthy ways to fall asleep CLICK HERE.
|Barbara Grubbs, NP
Nurse Practitioner & Health Coach