Don’t be fooled, alcohol will mess with your sleep

Thursday, March 30th, 2023 00:00 | By
Alcohol. PHOTO/Courtesy
Alcohol. PHOTO/Courtesy

Many people are hooked to alcohol because of the woozy boozy feeling they get after consuming a certain number of drinks. The one that makes them feel like falling asleep for two consecutive nights. However, it is a scam. The feeling can rob one of a good night’s rest, or worse, it can cause challenging sleep problems.

During a normal night of sleep, we cycle through periods of light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement sleep. Each sleep stage plays an essential function, but deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep are considered to be the most important stages of sleep for physical and mental restoration.

Understanding the effects of alcohol on sleep is the first step toward preventing alcohol-related sleep problems. To do this, let us bust some common myths and uncover a few sobering truths about how alcohol affects your sleep. However, how alcohol affects your sleep is not a single, straightforward thing, because there are several ways that alcohol consumption influences the quality of sleep. To start with, the sleepy feelings are real. Alcohol is indeed a muscle relaxant and a sedative. This is because it slows down the functions of the central nervous system, giving you that pleasant, relaxed feeling. As part of the 24-hour body cycle, the body releases a hormone called melatonin to prepare us to sleep. Studies have found that drinking alcohol before bedtime lowers melatonin levels and interferes with core body temperatures, which in turn impacts sleep quality. I know what you might be thinking: I can just take a melatonin supplement. Not so fast; it is not recommended to mix alcohol and melatonin- double depressants that can cause anxiety, dizziness, or breathing problems. On the surface, alcohol’s sedative effects, and for those of us who have struggled with insomnia, there is a deep appreciation for any sleeping aid. In an attempt to fall asleep, some people have a drink before bed. However, alcohol does not help with insomnia. Tolerance to alcohol can rapidly develop and for this reason, a person may need to drink more alcohol eventually increasing the risk of alcohol dependency and addiction. Alcohol and snoring- let us put that into perspective. Alcohol is a muscle relaxant and makes one prone to experience a blocked airway. Simply put, alcohol relaxes muscles in the throat thereby decreasing your body’s natural defenses against airway obstruction. The more your drink, the more relaxed the tissues and muscles become, and the louder you will snore.

Did you know that alcohol is a diuretic? This means that it sends you to the restroom more than once. Each time you get up to use the bathroom at night is an interruption of your sleep, and it is not always easy to fall back asleep immediately.

The reality is that alcohol has more adverse effects on sleep than positive ones. So how does one fall asleep without drinking alcohol?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, good sleep (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene’) can help get you a good night’s sleep.  Ideally, you should wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. Stimulants such as caffeine should be avoided, especially at night. Using electronics like smartphones bed should be avoided.

Taking any other substances that have a sedative effect should be avoided unless under a doctor’s prescription. Doing so can trigger a new addiction to another substance. Deliberate multiple relaxation methods can be used to help you wind down and fall asleep such as breathing exercises. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.

If you are used to taking alcohol as a coping mechanism for finding it hard to get to sleep, then there is a need to address the underlying issue. It is clear that alcohol is a temporary sedative and drinking it before bed as a “sleep aid” will flop.

— Caroline Kahiu is a substance use prevention advocate

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