I get it, you had a long day and you want to be able to fall asleep as soon as possible to feel fit the next day. The first thing that comes up in your mind is probably drinking a glass of wine. It’s just one glass or two glasses to relieve stress, relax and make you sleep better. But by doing that, you are making a huge mistake! While alcohol may help you to fall asleep faster, even the smallest amount can affect the quality of your sleep. You may wake up the next day like you haven’t slept at all. Alcohol and sleep problems such as insomnia and sleep apnea can be related to each other.
Alcohol effects on your REM sleep
The alcohol you drank before bedtime can make you skip the first stages of sleep, called the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It’s the stage where most dreams occur, and memories are stored. This means, without the REM sleep you go straight into deep sleep. This may be the reason some people with insomnia use alcohol to help them sleep. However, using alcohol as a sleep aid may result in alcohol independence. Also, if you rely on alcohol to fall asleep, you’re much likely to sleepwalk, sleep talk, and to have memory problems. According to Dr. John Shneerson, head of the sleep centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, your body restores itself during deep sleep and alcohol may interfere with this. At the same time, once the alcohol starts to wear off, you can come out of deep sleep and go back to REM sleep. This is much easier to wake up from and explains why after drinking you often wake up after just hours of sleep. This is also the reason alcohol can cause insomnia. In one night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep that make you feel refreshed the day after. If you drank before, you would only have one or two cycles, meaning you end up feeling exhausted once you wake up. The medical director of the London Sleep Centre in the U.K, Irshaad Ebrahim, concludes that alcohol may help you to sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, especially during the second half of the night.
Sleep apnea and alcohol
There is a link between obstructive sleep apnea and alcohol. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder in which you repeatedly stop breathing for a few seconds during your sleep. It occurs when you throat muscles relaxes to the extent that you block your airway. The most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea is snoring.
Snoring also occurs when the muscles in the mouth and throat relax during sleep. The blockage in the airways causes you to breathe harder to force the air to go out. This causes the soft palate tissue and uvula to vibrate resulting in snoring. The difference with sleep apnea and normal snoring is that with sleep apnea you stop breathing temporarily. The air can’t go out even when you breathe harder, and you have to gasp for air.
Alcohol can cause you to snore louder because alcohol relaxes the throat muscles and it affects the brain. Even when you normally don’t snore, you might start snoring if you have been drinking the night before. If you already have snoring problems, you might even experience apnea symptoms if you have been drinking. Hangovers are partially due to the disordered breathing while asleep.
Alcohol effects on the bladder
You might wake up more often in the night to go to the toilet if you drank alcohol before you went to bed. Alcohol causes your body to produce less of the hormone vasopressin. The hormone gives a signal to the kidneys to reabsorb the water instead of peeing it out. Without the signal to your kidneys, your bladder is free to fill it up with fluids.
Your body is encouraged to lose the extra fluids by sweating as well. Getting rid of the extra fluids is not the only reason you have to go to the toilet more often. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that your kidneys make you pee more than you drank. That’s why you often wake up sweaty and dehydrated after a night drinking.
When you go the toilet for the first time while sleeping, is to get rid of the liquid you have drunk and second time is because of the added diuretic effect. It doesn’t matter if you switch from drinks with less volume to shots. It’s the diuretic impact of the alcohol that causes you to pee.
All in all, alcohol effects on your sleep whether by making you wake up from REM sleep, snore or for going to the toilet.
Alcohol can cause insomnia
Alcohol affects persons sleep homeostasis. Sleep homeostasis regulates the sleepiness and wakefulness of an individual. The body balances the need for sleep according to the time that you’ve been awake by using adenosine.
The level of adenosine goes up when you’re awake for longer periods and goes down during sleep. When the levels go up, it blocks the wake-promoting cells, and when the levels are defeated again, the cells become active again.
That’s why you get tired when you are awake for a long time. Since your level of adenosine goes up and blocks the wake-promoting cells, which makes you fall asleep easier. If this makes you go to sleep earlier than usual, it results in a shift in your sleep homeostasis. Your adenosine levels go down again once you sleep and activates the wake-promoting cells. This can cause you waking up in the middle of the night.
Researchers from the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine in Columbia investigated the effect of alcohol on sleep. They found out that alcohol boosts the adenosine levels. The results were that after extended periods of regular drinking, sleep came quickly to the participants as they expected. However, within a few hours, they woke up and insomnia had set in, making it difficult to return to sleep.
Alcoholics and those who are trying to stop can both have slept fragmentations and difficulties in maintaining sleep (DIS). People who are attempting to cut down their alcohol consumption often experience sleep problems. Since insomnia is a withdrawal symptom.
Acute alcohol withdrawal increases in wakefulness with a reduction in the REM and non-REM sleep. This causes the insomnia symptoms and suggests an impaired sleep homeostasis. It takes the time to return to normal sleep after you stopped drinking.
Stop the alcohol effects on sleep
If you are drinking alcohol, give your body the time to process it before you sleep. Try to avoid drinking close to bedtime, since it takes on average more than an hour to prepare one beer, depending on the person. You can search online how long it takes to process each alcoholic drink.
Try to exchange the alcohol for a hot beverage, a dairy or herbal drink. These drinks won’t have an adverse effect on your sleep. It even stimulates sleep. Also, instead of drinking a glass of wine to relax, you can try doing stress relieving exercises before sleep.
If you still have slept problems, contact your doctor to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping.