According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 20% of adults use alcohol to go to sleep. Especially when suffering from insomnia, alcohol can seem to offer some very quick relief. But research shows that alcohol can actually wreak havoc on your sleep cycle, and in turn it can really impact how you feel during the day.
Alcohol is a depressant, and so it tends to have a sedating effect. This means that it can help people to fall asleep more quickly and to get into deeper sleep in the beginning of the night. The problem is, though, that at some point that alcohol starts to wear off and the body begins to have a “rebound effect” – in other words, instead of feeling sedated you are woken up at 3 or 4a.m. And, because alcohol is a diuretic, you probably have to go to the bathroom. A lot.
Alcohol does a few other things to sleep. First, it inhibits REM sleep. REM is the phase of sleep that involves dreaming, and it is also considered one of the most restorative sleep phases. So, people who use alcohol to sleep can have difficulty concentrating and feel drowsy during the day. Second, alcohol relaxes the muscles. This leads to snoring, and conditions like sleep apnea are exacerbated. And when combined with prescription drugs, such as opioids, prescription sleep medications or anxiolytics, these problems can be much worse – sometimes, the results are even fatal.
In summary, while alcohol might get you to sleep more quickly, it interferes with restful sleep and can make it harder to concentrate and feel alert during the day.
Kirsten Helgager, PsyD
AToN Center 888-535-1516