Health 

How Alcohol Affects Sleep Patterns

March 13, 2020 5 min read

How Alcohol Affects Sleep Patterns

Setting our clocks ahead in spring already deprives us of an hour of sleep. Drinking alcohol can compound sleepy feelings by interrupting our biological clocks. So as daylight savings time rolls around and St. Patrick’s Day is near, sleep hygiene becomes increasingly important to help avoid the groggy, hazy feelings that accompany poor quality rest.

There’s very little we can do about a hangover and the foggy feelings that accompany this unfortunate human condition. If you want to slam Irish whiskey and start drinking at 9 a.m. to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day, you’ll have plenty of company. That doesn’t make it a healthy choice, but when the mood compels you, it compels you. If you want to have a pint of green beer with your eggs, no one’s stopping you—and at least that way you’re getting some protein. If you want to drop a shot of whiskey and some Irish cream into a Guinness and chug it all as fast as you can, there’s no one’s stopping you. If you want to swig Jameson from the bottle like a rockstar and spend your night sending ill-advised drunk texts, that’s your business.

Just be sure you have safe transportation and a plan to mitigate the effects of lost sleep, lost electrolytes (and maybe lost dignity) as soon as possible.


How alcohol affects sleep patterns

Adenosine


St. Paddy's-related alcohol use aside, pretty much any amount of alcohol can prevent you from getting good, restful sleep. The less alcohol you drink, the less your sleep will be affected, but even a couple of drinks can alter your sleep rhythms. You may notice that having a drink before bed helps you fall asleep; this is because, according to theSleep Foundation, drinking increases the production of adenosine—which helps you fall asleep more quickly. But since alcohol frontloads extra adenosine in your brain, it wears off quickly and you end up waking before you’re rested.

Melatonin


Alcohol can also interfere with the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Even a moderate intake of alcohol an hour before bed can reduce melatonin production byabout 20 percent. Melatonin production is regulated by your body’s circadian rhythm and is influenced by the amount of sunlight available to you during the day. Day drinking desensitizes your body to natural light cues:Sleeping off a midday buzz disrupts your normal sleep wake cycle and ignores your natural, biological impulse to produce melatonin on a regular schedule.


Deep sleep and sleep cycles


You may have noticed that you fall asleep more quickly when you have a beer before bed, and you may feel like there’s no better rest in life than the power nap you get after day drinking. And there’s some truth to that—you do fall asleep faster and you doenter the deep sleep phase of the sleep cycle more quickly.

The problem with starting your sleep session in the deep sleep phase is that you deprive yourself ofREM sleep. REM sleep typically happens within about 90 minutes of falling asleep, and it’s important to spend enough time in the REM phase of sleep because it has a direct impact on memory, concentration and emotional processing.

Trips to the bathroom


Perhaps the most obvious sleep disruption caused by alcohol is frequent trips to the bathroom. Beer is considered a diuretic, andany kind of alcohol makes you have to urinate more. Of course, if you drink water (as you should) in between drinks, your bladder will also be fuller anyway, whichmeans even more sleepy trips to the bathroom and less quality rest.




When is the best time of day to drink?


In general, the best time of day to drink is late afternoon or early evening. Drinking during happy hour doesn’t interrupt your sleep patterns the way that day drinking or late-night drinking does; happy hour consumption gives your bodyenough time to metabolize alcohol completely before bed. Of course, if it’s St. Patrick’s Day and you have four or five beers at happy hour, it’s still going to impact your sleep. But having a couple of drinks after work won’t disrupt your sleep much more than anything else in your normal day-to-day life.

And speaking of:


Daily stress and sleep disruption


Both bad and good health habits have a compounding effect. If you’re already struggling with insomnia, drinking alcohol and disrupting your potential for sleep is going to make insomnia worse. If you have anxiety or suffer from depression, the sleep interruptions you get from drinking will exacerbate mood swings. If you don’t exercise or practicegood sleep hygiene, then alcohol will add to an already troublesome problem of sleep deprivation. On the other hand, if you exercise regularly and put electronics up an hour before bed, you will get exponentially better sleep.


Getting better sleep and living a normal life


As we’vewritten about before, sleep isn’t easy, even when alcohol is left out of the mix. As you get older, sleep gets harder, and life is stressful no matter what age you are. But one of the most pervasive ruiners of good sleep in modern times is blue light—especially the blue light that is emitted from computer monitors, phones, TVs and tablets. So finding ways to get sleep naturally is critical for overall health.


Sleep supplements


Sleep supplements are a better option than pharmaceutical sleeping pills for many reasons, but the most important reason is the absence of serious side effects. Some popular sleeping pills like Ambien can cause side effects like sleep-eating, sleepwalking and other,much stranger, sleep-related issues. Most drugs are habit-forming as well and can make sleep more difficult after a while. Tolerance for certain drugs can build up and even exacerbate insomnia once you stop taking them.

Melatonin supplements are a good starting point, especially if you’re trying to get over jet lag. Valerian root supplements and chamomile are also very good natural sleep aids, and have been used for centuries as natural medicine.

Taking a natural sleep aid with melatonin, valerian root chamomile, P5P (pyridoxal 5 phosphate) and patented L-Suntheanine is a more advanced approach.An all-in-one sleep aid designed to help promote deep, restful sleep is a great way to supplement healthy choices and small, incremental lifestyle changes to help improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Conclusion


Drinking is a normal, social part of life. But when you do consume in excess, alcohol can have a negative effect on the length and quality of sleep you get by interfering with your circadian rhythm and hormones.

Avoid alcohol-related sleep problems by drinking in moderation, and try to consume your alcohol in the late afternoon or early evening when your body can best metabolize it.

Daily life can make sleep hard even without the additional disruption of alcohol. Finding a healthy, natural way to get sleep can help undo some of the damage done to your body that is caused by stress, travel, diet and blue light from electronic devices. Natural sleep supplements, in conjunction with healthy habits and good sleep hygiene, will help you get deeper, more restful sleep to handle whatever life throws your way.

Seth Garland - Content Writer, Physician's Choice