The association between alcohol consumption and sleep disorders among older people in the general population Scientific Reports

When people in America notice they’ve developed issues falling asleep, their first reaction is often to have a drink. This may help many fall asleep on occasion; however, the use of alcohol, even a single serving, will make it more difficult for someone to reach deep sleep, also known as REM sleep. Without deep sleep, our mind and body are unable to do what’s necessary to prepare for the next day. If alcohol continues to disrupt your overall sleep quality, you may consider cutting it out entirely, or limiting your intake before bedtime. If you’ve stopped drinking alcohol, but are still having sleep issues, be sure to reach out to a sleep specialist.

In patients with delirium tremens (DTs), a higher percentage of Stage 1 sleep with REM (stage 1 period with low voltage EEG with REM) was demonstrated (Greenberg and Pearlman, 1967). In this study, one of the subjects had nightmares of hallucinatory intensity during alcohol withdrawal and with 100% Stage 1-REM sleep. As DTs ended, recovery sleep set in as a response to sleep deprivation in most of these patients. However, a subset of patients may have fragmented sleep and disturbances of consciousness that predict a guarded prognosis for future episodes of DTs (Kotorii et al., 1982, Nakazawa et al., 1981).

How Can I Work on My Insomnia While Addressing My Alcohol Issue?

Studies have shown that alcohol use can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. Drinking to excess will typically have a more negative impact on sleep than light or moderate alcohol consumption. Research has shown that those who drink large amounts of alcohol before bed are more likely to take less time to fall asleep, but are also more likely to experience sleep disruptions and decreases in sleep quality. However, since the effects of alcohol are different from person to person, even small amounts of alcohol can reduce sleep quality for some people.

During apnea-related breathing episodes – which can occur throughout the night – the sleeper may make choking noises. Some studies suggest that alcohol contributes to sleep apnea because it causes the throat muscles to relax, which in turn creates more resistance during breathing. This can exacerbate OSA symptoms and lead to disruptive breathing episodes, as well as heavier snoring. Additionally, consuming just one serving of alcohol before bed can lead to symptoms of OSA and heavy snoring, even for people who have not been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by abnormal breathing and temporary loss of breath during sleep.

Diet, Exercise, and Sleep

But in the second half of the night, it may lead to fragmented sleep (more awakenings). Further, alcohol may continue to disturb sleep even after the breath alcohol concentration is undetectable. The major issue is that people may not feel the negative insomnia and alcoholism effects at first. They can try it a few times and think their sleeping problems are cured. Eventually, however, they notice that they are tired when they wake up. The solution seems simple; they have another beer, another glass of wine, another shot.

insomnia and alcoholism

The ethanol drinking was done individually in a bedroom, while comfortably seated at a table. Movement about the room, except as necessary to void (each room has a bathroom) and go to bed (bed and bathroom are within 10 feet of the table), was restricted to minimize any ethanol-related kinesthetic cues. Briefly for this study the 0.3 g/kg dose is approximately equivalent to two US beers and 0.6 g/kg to four beers. When a person has sleep apnea, they have interrupted breathing during the night. The condition is linked to fatigue as well as serious cardiovascular conditions like heart attack and stroke.

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When a person drinks alcohol, doing so in small or moderate amounts several hours before sleep can reduce the chance of sleep issues. They may turn to alcohol to reduce their anxiety symptoms, which also increases insomnia, exacerbating their anxious feelings. Consuming alcohol may present a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

If you’re turning to alcohol to help you sleep, you may be making the quality of your sleep worse. Many of us find ourselves tossing and turning at night, trying to get that elusive 7 to 8 hours of sleep experts say we need but never finding it. By Buddy T

Buddy T is a writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Because he is a member of a support group that stresses the importance of anonymity at the public level, he does not use his photograph or his real name on this website. This episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring neurologist and sleep expert Chris Winter, shares strategies for sleeping better at night.

If you’re in recovery, your healthcare provider will need to weigh the risks and benefits of prescribing these medications for insomnia. There are also some relapse-prevention medications that can help promote sleep. The first treatment for insomnia in recovery is sobriety, and many patients will see improvement. For the specific treatment of insomnia, behavioral therapies are the preferred treatment (rather than medications), as they have been shown to be effective and they won’t interfere with sobriety. Sleep problems are often viewed as one of the last things to improve among people in alcohol recovery. Daytime sleepiness, reduced concentration, irritability, and other symptoms can then result.

insomnia and alcoholism