22 Jul How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

Many see alcohol as a sleep inducer, but the truth is that alcohol can be a tremendous detriment to a sleep cycle, affecting quality of sleep and potentially bringing in additional sleep-inhibiting factors. Here are some of the ways that alcohol use—and especially alcohol abuse—affects your sleep.

Less restful sleep

Alcohol may be a depressant that holds with it the potential to induce sleep more quickly, but that doesn’t mean that the sleep you’ll get is restful for the body. While you might sleep more soundly for the first half of the night as you experience deep sound wave sleep, your body at this stage is being deprived of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is necessary for the restorative effects it has on the body. The second half of the night will be characterized by much lighter sleep, and you’ll awaken much more easily. This is likely due to the “rebound effect” that occurs in the middle of the night once alcohol has fully metabolized, which is the body’s way of making up for the REM deficit incurred during the first portion of sleep.

In other words, alcohol use creates an imbalance in the amount of REM sleep a person experiences, and studies have shown that it even creates a deficit in the overall amount of REM sleep that a person gets. This makes for an overall decrease in sleep quality.

Sleep apnea

Alcohol use can also result in (or worsen) sleep apnea, which is characterized by brief 10- to 30-second episodes of breathing obstruction (called apneas) while sleeping. This is because alcohol is a muscle relaxant, and after drinking the muscles at the back of your throat might ease even more than usual during sleep. These apneas can occur hundreds of times during a night of sleep and can result in daytime sleepiness, headaches, impaired mental functioning, or very loud or interrupted snoring.

Daytime sleepiness

The effects that alcohol can have on you while you are sleeping can also contribute to daytime sleepiness, which is characterized by excessive feelings of fatigue, decreased ability to function mentally, and decreased alertness during the day. Daytime sleepiness can interfere with everyday tasks like work and child care and causes a person to want to nap repeatedly, which in turn works to disrupt a sleeping cycle even further.

Ally Keenan is a University of Utah graduate and currently works as a Clinical Social Worker and Substance Use Disorder Counselor. Ally started her career in 2009 working in adolescent residential treatment as an assistant program director. Since 2010, she has worked as a clinician with individuals suffering from addictions, chemical dependency, and co-occurring mental health disorders in both the Intensive Outpatient and Residential treatment capacities. Ally currently serves on the board as vice-president of the non-profit foundation Recovery Outreach; a 501(c)(3) organization created to help fund treatment for individuals suffering from addiction and lacking the financial resources to afford it. In 2010, she took the opportunity to incorporate her passion for animals, and their powerful healing nature, into her work through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). She truly enjoys facilitating Equine Psychotherapy, and life-skills sessions, as a form of experiential therapy.
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