Today I would like to explore and get you thinking about the relationship between alcohol and sleep. Does alcohol affect my sleep? How many of us have a drink before going to bed, believing that it gives us a better night sleep? 

Both my grandmother and my father had an alcoholic beverage of some kind before going to bed. A few acquaintances have drinks every evening, reporting that they don’t sleep when they go without alcohol.

So does alcohol affect my sleep?
Falling asleep on the sofa

Do you wake up feeling refreshed?

I come across people in my therapy room and outside that report poor quality sleep—often waking to feel like they have just gone a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson. Others are reporting very little sleep. In turn, they may start to feel sudden moments of anxiety or panic attacks throughout the day, along with thoughts of depression. 

Waking up feeling like you have been in the boxing ring

Sleep is vital to our overall wellbeing

Sleep is a vital part of maintaining our health both mentally and physically. I recently listened to Mathew Walker ‘Why we sleep.’ and highly recommend perusing this book. Mathew is a sleep researcher in Britain and the U.S. He explains the evidence supporting the correlation between poor sleep with different dementias, anxiety/depression, and physical ailments. 

Whilst many reasons can affect sleep quality, like anxious worry about events happening or overthinking future events, overstimulation of the brain and body from caffeine-based products or too much screen time.

I am not a specialist in sleep, but I have many colleagues that I can refer clients to when I am not the right therapist.

How does alcohol affect the brain during sleep

Brain

The relationship between sleep and alcohol is widely misunderstood. From my experience with friends and clients, GPs are not asking patients how much alcohol they consume when patients speak about poor sleep.

 GPs are busy and often do not have the time to ask patients with anxiety/depression and sleep issues about their daily consumed alcohol intake. The patient is sent away with an anti-depressant/anxiety tablet and possibly sleeping pills as well. 

Prescribing medication is like a sticky plaster; it is helpful in the beginning. For example, when bandaged, a leaky pipe stops the water from being visible; however, the pipe is still leaking. The problem is still there, but for a short while, symptoms are masked until they are not. In a few weeks, the patient returns to the GP and is often prescribed a higher dose of medication, so the cycle continues. 

I have included a video of the effects of caffeine and alcohol on the brain. https://youtu.be/KQ9FfzMKBNc

  • Poor sleep can lead to mental and physical ailments. The cycles of sleep are deep NREM or REM sleep. The first stage is responsible for the body healing and repairing.
  • The second stage is tidying up the memories of the day, sorting out what stays and goes to long-term memory and what is no longer essential to keep you safe. REM is the dream state responsible for creating new neural connections. We dream in metaphors, and often when we wake up, we have solved the problem of the day before. There is 80/20 split. Both are vital to maintaining a healthy body and mind. 

I wonder if your sleep is of good quality? 

waking feeling refreshed

If you have been struggling with sleep issues, depression and anxiety the do not fret any longer. There are things you can do to help yourself.

  1. Drink more water during the day, reduce caffeine and alcohol.
  2. Ensure that the room you sleep in is dark. Use a blackout blind if necessary.
  3. Reduce screen-time by at least 30 minutes before sleeping. Listen to an audible book or meditation. These are a couple of ways of resting the eyes and allowing the brain to quieten and relax.

Conclusion

So to conclude, alcohol before bed can do more harm than good. When the body gets used to a chemical through regular consumption, it requires more of that chemical to achieve the same result level. Like with the medication given by the GP, the original use of the chemical is masking the result that we desired initially. That may be a better nights sleep or just a quietening of the noisy thoughts racing through the mind. 

It may take a few evenings for the substances to clear from the body’s system and possibly be some withdrawal symptoms. 

After that, new habits are possible, and as we can see, though, there are other ways of achieving these results.