Updated at: 15-02-2022 - By: Jane Brody

The central nervous system depressant alcohol slows down the brain’s activity. When consumed in moderation, alcohol’s sedative properties can help you unwind and go off to sleep, but studies have shown that heavy drinking can have negative impacts on sleep quality and length. Insomnia is a typical symptom in people with alcohol use disorders. Sleep apnea might be exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption, according to research.

Drinking in moderation is generally seen as harmless, however, each person’s reaction to alcohol is different. As a result, the effect of alcohol on sleep varies greatly from person to person.

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

The stomach and small intestine absorb alcohol into the bloodstream after consumption. Even if the liver has the enzymes to break down the alcohol, the body will continue to circulate it since the process is so sluggish. Alcohol’s effects are highly individualistic. There are many elements that contribute to how much alcohol is consumed and how quickly it is ingested, including the person’s age (male or female), sex, body type, and form.

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Alcohol and sleep have been studied extensively since the 1930s, although many facets of this link remain a mystery to researchers. Drinking a lot of alcohol before going to bed has been shown to cause sleep deprivation in some people, which means it takes them a long time to go to sleep. These people are more prone to have sleep disturbances and poorer sleep quality as the alcohol is metabolized by liver enzymes during the night.

To better understand how alcohol affects sleep, it is necessary to explain the various stages of the human sleep cycle. Normal sleep consists of four stages: three non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages and a rapid eye movement (REM) stage.

  • Stage 1 (NREM): During this early stage, the body begins to shut down as it transitions from being awake to being asleep. When a person falls asleep, their heart rate, breathing rate, and eye movements rate all begin to slow down. There is also a decrease in the activity of the brain. Light sleep is another name for this stage.
  • Stage 2 (NREM): Their heartbeat and breathing rate continues to decrease as they enter deeper slumber. Temperatures fall and the eyes close, indicating that the body is cooling down. For the majority of people, stage 2 is the longest stage of the four phases of sleep.
  • Stages 3 (NREM): Lowest levels of sleep activity include the heartbeat, breathing rate as well as brain activity. The muscles in the face and eyes have completely relaxed. Slow-wave sleep is the name given to this type of sleep.
  • REM: About 90 minutes after falling asleep, a person begins to experience REM sleep. The sleeper’s breathing and heartbeat will speed up as their eyes begin to move again. During REM sleep, the majority of dreaming occurs. Consolidation of memories is also suggested to take place at this time.

Throughout the night, the four stages of NREM and REM repeat themselves. An eight-hour sleep period should include four to five cycles, each lasting 90 to 120 minutes. NREM slow-wave sleep dominates for the first few cycles, while REM sleep normally lasts no more than 10 minutes at a time. Later cycles will see the roles reversed, with REM taking over and lasting up to 40 minutes or more. NREM sleep will virtually disappear during these cycles.

The reduction of REM sleep during the first two cycles can be exacerbated by consuming alcohol just before going to bed. It’s common for those who drink to fall asleep more quickly, as alcohol is a sedative. Slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may become unbalanced as the night goes on, resulting in less REM sleep and more of the former. As a result, sleep quality is reduced, which can lead to a shorter sleep time and more frequent interruptions.

Alcohol and Insomnia

Sleep apnea is the second most prevalent sleep condition, and it is characterized as “a persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation, or quality,” Sleep deprivation, excessive daytime tiredness, and other unpleasant consequences are all symptoms of insomnia.

People who drink before going to bed are more likely to suffer from insomnia symptoms and wake up feeling exhausted the next day. Self-medicating with alcohol to fall asleep, using caffeine and other stimulants during the day in order to stay alert, then using alcohol as a sedative in order to offset the effects of these stimulants can lead them into a vicious cycle

When a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol in such a short period of time that their blood alcohol level is 0.08 percent or more, their sleep quality is adversely affected. People who engage in binge drinking on a weekly basis are more likely to have difficulty falling and staying asleep, according to recent studies. Both men and women came to the same conclusions in this study. Adolescents and young adults, as well as people in their mid and late-twenties and beyond, all showed similar patterns.

Researchers have shown a correlation between long-term alcohol addiction and sleep disorders. It is possible for people to quickly build up a tolerance to alcohol, forcing them to drink more before going to sleep in order to get to sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom among those with alcohol use disorders.

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Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

When you’re asleep, your airways become obstructed, causing you to stop breathing briefly. Because of these pauses in breathing, the quality of your sleep can be negatively affected. OSA is caused by obstructions at the back of the throat, whereas CSA is caused by a faulty signal from the brain to the muscles that control breathing.

The sleeper may make choking noises when experiencing an apneic breathing episode, which can happen at any time during the night. People who suffer from sleep apnea are also more likely to snore loudly and disturb others while they’re asleep. Because alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, it may contribute to sleep apnea by making breathing more difficult. As a result, OSA sufferers may have worsening symptoms, including more frequent and severe breathing disturbances and louder snoring. Even for those who haven’t been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a single drink before bed can cause OSA and loud snoring.

There has been a good deal of investigation into the connection between sleep apnea and drinking. Drinking alcohol raises the risk of sleep apnea by 25 percent, according to a wide range of studies.

How to Drink & Sleep Responsibly

So, does this suggest that you should stop drinking in order to have a decent night’s sleep? Nope! When drinking, there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with your sleep:

  • Ensure that you have at least three hours between your last drink and going to bed.
  • You can assist flush the alcohol out of your system by drinking water with your booze.
  • Having a drink while you eat is an excellent method to restrain yourself from overindulging, as you’ll likely be eating a few hours before going to sleep.
  • If you’re using sleeping drugs, stay away from alcohol. Both are depressants, and when combined, they can make it dangerously difficult to breathe while sleeping.

Even if you don’t drink, snoring could be a sign of a sleep issue like sleep apnea if you notice it all the time. People who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea experience short and frequent breathing pauses while they sleep. Suffocating cessations prevent sufferers from getting the deep, restorative sleep they require since the body has to partially rouse itself repeatedly to reestablish adequate breathing. If your mouth and throat muscles relax and close off your airway while you’re sleeping, you’re most likely suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue during the day.
  • Snoring never stops.
  • Problems concentrating or recalling details are symptoms of mental fog.
  • Mood disorders like depression and manic episodes.
  • Having difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Feeling short of breath when waking up in the morning.
  • Morning headaches and sore throats are a common occurrence.

People with sleep apnea should monitor their alcohol intake before night to ensure they’re getting the rest they need. Alcohol can exacerbate existing snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, and it can even raise a person’s risk of developing the condition. It is important to note that improved drinking and sleeping habits alone will not be enough to alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea. In addition to a retainer or mouthguard, there is an oral device that elevates the jaw forward while you sleep, allowing for greater airflow.

Oral appliances are the focus of our work at Sleep Better Georgia. Getting help for your sleep problems may be in order if you have any of the symptoms described above in addition to your snoring. Dr. Rodgers and the team at Sleep Better Georgia are here to help you discover a solution to your sleep issues by scheduling a free consultation now.

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Alcohol and Sleep FAQ

Does Alcohol Help You Sleep?

Because of its sedative effects, alcohol may help you get to sleep more quickly. However, the liver enzymes that are activated by alcohol metabolism can cause sleep disturbances later in the night for those who consume alcohol before going to bed. Excessive daytime sleepiness and other problems may potentially occur as a result of this Tolerance to the sedative effects of alcohol can develop over time, making it necessary to drink more each night in order to maintain the desired level of sedation.

Does Alcohol Affect Men and Women Differently?

Women, on average, show signs of intoxication earlier and at lower levels of alcohol consumption than males, according to a recent study. Two things are mostly responsible for this. Because women often weigh less than males and become intoxicated more quickly, this is a primary factor. In general, women’s bodies contain less water than men’s. Because alcohol is more easily absorbed by women’s bodies than by men’s, drinking the same amount of alcohol can result in higher blood alcohol concentrations in women than in males.

What Is the Difference Between Moderate Drinking and Heavy Drinking?

Measurements such as the following are usually accepted to represent one serving of alcohol:

  • 5 percent ABV beer in an aluminum can.
  • This bottle of wine has an alcoholic level of 12 percent.
  • 1.25 oz. of 40% alcohol liquor.

Men can drink up to two drinks per day, and women can drink up to one drink per day. Men who engage in heavy drinking consume an average of over 15 drinks per week, while women consume an average of over 8 drinks per week.

Will a Small Amount of Alcohol Affect My Sleep?

Overindulgence in alcohol is more likely to interfere with a good night’s sleep than occasional or modest drinking. Even a modest amount of alcohol can have a negative impact on sleep quality for some people, although this depends on the individual.

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A 2018 study evaluated the quality of sleep among those who drank varying amounts of alcohol, and the results were striking. This is what we found out:

  • Men who drank less than two servings of alcohol per day (or women who drank less than one serving per day) reported less restful sleep.
  • Moderate levels of alcohol (two glasses per day for men or one serving per day for women) reduced sleep quality by 24%.
  • There was a 39.2 percent reduction in sleep quality when alcohol consumption was high (more than two glasses per day for men and one serving for women).

When Should I Stop Drinking Prior To Bed To Minimize Sleep Disruption?

Preventing sleep disturbances by cutting down on alcohol use at least four hours before bedtime is recommended.

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