If you drink alcohol and have problems sleeping, you are not alone. A close link exists between alcohol and sleep deprivation. In fact, up to 72% of people who struggle with drinking have a problem with sleep.
These problems sleeping are often chronic and can continue even after you stop drinking. Although some people with insomnia drink to feel relaxed enough to go to bed, medical professionals think that this may harm the sleep cycle, causing worsened sleep problems.
Alcohol and Sleep Apnea
Alcohol and sleep apnea are interrelated. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the upper airway narrows or closes during sleep, leading to interrupted breathing up to hundreds of times in a night. When you have sleep apnea, you often wake up with each breathing interruption even if you do not remember doing so.
There are health risks linked to drinking and sleep apnea, especially if you snore. These risks include:
- Heart attack
- Heart rhythm problems
- Sudden death
Drinking alcohol is a risk factor if you have sleep apnea, particularly if you snore. Sleep apnea can persist for years even after you stop drinking. Doctors have found that on its own, alcohol can narrow your upper airway and lead to sleep apnea problems, even if you have never had them before.
Additionally, drinking alcohol can also make the breathing interruptions last longer when you are asleep, leading to more awakenings while you sleep. Upon waking, you may feel extremely groggy. Studies have shown that people who drink and have sleep apnea are at a much higher risk of traffic accidents than people with sleep apnea who do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol and Insomnia
Some people with insomnia drink alcohol to relax before bed. One study shows that relaxation before bedtime is the reason about 10% of people drink alcohol. Because alcohol can have a depressive effect on the brain, drinking may help some people fall asleep faster.
However, drinking can harm an essential part of the sleep cycle known as rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep. Doctors think that getting enough REM sleep is vital to staying healthy. If your REM sleep is interrupted, you may wake up during the night from dreams and find it hard to go back to sleep, leading to insomnia after a drinking binge. Studies have shown that when you get up the next day, you may be less alert because of your drinking the night before, even though you no longer have alcohol left in your body.
Because of the damage that alcohol can do to your sleep cycle, sleep problems are common, even if you stop drinking. You may notice some worsened insomnia during alcohol withdrawal. However, you may continue to have trouble sleeping for years after you stop drinking. Some people in recovery may try to start drinking again to improve their sleep, however, the alcohol will continue to damage their sleep cycles and the problem will not get better.
Treating Alcohol and Insomnia
Finding an alcohol insomnia cure is a multi-step process. Because trouble sleeping is a risk factor for relapse among people in recovery from addiction, it is important to make sure sleeping issues are treated.
Doctors think it is important to follow a few different steps to address sleep problems, including:
- Enrolling in a rehab program if you have a drug or alcohol problem
- Treating any mental health conditions or medical problems that can lead to problems with sleep
- Quitting smoking, because nicotine can cause insomnia
- Not taking medications which can cause insomnia
If you continue to have problems sleeping, there are treatments available. Doctors usually prefer non-drug therapies and avoid using drug therapies for insomnia. Over the long term, many sleeping pills can harm the natural sleep cycle and cause side effects including:
- Being sleepy during the day
- Feeling groggy
- Problems with judgment
- Dependence or addiction
Non-drug therapies, however, do not have these risks. You can also use multiple non-drug therapies at once, and you may find that combining them (with the guidance of a doctor) helps even more than just using one or two. Sleep medicine specialists exist to help people specifically with sleep problems and can recommend treatments that might be the best fit for you.
Non-drug therapies for sleep problems with alcohol include:
- Muscle relaxation
- Regular exercise
- Sleep restriction
- Bright light therapy
- Using the bed only for sleep or related activities
- Keeping the bedroom dark and quiet
- Sticking to a bedtime routine
Key Points: Alcohol and Sleep Deprivation
Important points about alcohol and sleep deprivation include:
- Alcohol may cause or worsen sleep apnea
- Even though alcohol may help some people fall asleep, the quality of the sleep is often poor
- Sleep problems from alcohol can persist for a long time even after you have quit drinking
- Treatments are available to help with sleep, and non-drug therapies are first-line treatments
If you struggle with alcohol and are trying to quit, you do not have to go through the process alone. The team at The Recovery Village is available to help you. We offer personalized treatment for alcohol addiction. Contact us today to learn more. Your call is free and confidential, and you do not have to commit to one of our programs to learn more about treatment.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.