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This page was reviewed by Sarina Wheatman, (Emotional Freedom Technique Master Practitioner (EFT), Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) NCAC), Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at Manor Clinic.

You might have noticed that after you’ve had a few drinks, getting off to sleep can be relatively easy. While drinking can sometimes help you to nod off, just a couple of drinks can see your quality of sleep negatively affected.

This article looks at the reasons why alcohol and sleep don’t mix, plus what you can do if you’re drinking excessively just so you can drift off at night.

How Can Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Alcohol is a depressant to our central nervous system. It causes brain activity to slow down and its sedative effects make us feel relaxed and, eventually, drowsy. It might make you think that alcohol and sleep are a good combination. However, while alcohol can make it easier for us to fall asleep in the first place, it’s well established that excess drinking can do lots of harm to your quality of sleep.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is an extremely valuable part of our sleep cycle. It’s when our body is in its restorative state, recouping energy, recovering from the day and getting you ready for tomorrow. Alcohol consumption negatively affects this part of the sleep cycle.

The ‘Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research’ study from 2013 said:

“Alcohol shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, increases deep sleep, and reduces REM sleep.”

It also increases the chance of disrupted sleep, as you might wake up in the night needing the toilet, and can make sleep apnea and other sleep disorders worse. The effects of all this are that, when you wake up, your body won’t have had enough regenerative REM sleep. This will increase the likelihood of that sense of grogginess we get when we’ve had a lot to drink. It’ll also leave you unable to concentrate and decrease your mood. 

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) alcohol consumption guidelines suggests that, in order to keep associated health risks low, an adult should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you do drink more than this, you could find that your sleep is consistently affected.

What if I Can’t Sleep Without Alcohol?

If you find that having a couple of drinks has helped you to get to sleep in the past, it’s easy to keep going back to that method. People struggling with mental health issues like anxiety or depression can find themselves drinking in order to self-medicate. Alcohol’s depressant characteristics can help to relax us in the short-term, but over time, it can make your mental health symptoms worse. In fact, government statistics state that around 60% of people in treatment for alcohol addiction also need mental health support.

Over time, the impact alcohol will have on your sleep quality and overall health means it’s important you try and work out a different method for getting a good night’s rest.

 Some things you can try to help you get a better night’s sleep include:

  • Keep a regular schedule – maintaining regular sleep and wake cycles will help your body clock adjust to a routine. And don’t be tempted to nap during the day
  • Try and stay active – physical exercise during the day will release all that stress and anxiety from the day, helping you to relax when it’s time for bed
  • Keep devices out of the bedroom – your bedroom should be a phone, TV and laptop-free zone. They keep our brain active even after we’ve put them down, making it harder for us to switch off
  • Put your problems in a drawer – some people find that writing down all their problems on a notepad and putting it in a drawer helps them to switch off. Put what’s bothering you away and think about it tomorrow, helping you to stop ruminating each night
  • Try some mindfulness exercises – breathing exercises and meditation are great ways to stay relaxed, helping you to slip off in to a peaceful sleep

Why Can’t I Sleep After Drinking Alcohol?

Having a drink to see yourself off to sleep may work on occasions, but over time, our body’s tolerance to the  sedative effects of alcohol will increase. This means that we’ll be less likely to be able to drift off easily after consuming alcohol. When it’s consumed regularly, alcohol can also increase our levels of anxiety and decrease our mood, making it more difficult for us to relax and get quality sleep.

It’s also worth considering that many alcoholic beverages contain mixers with added sugar or caffeine. If you can’t sleep after drinking these types of beverages, these types of substances could also be having an impact.

Insomnia is a common symptom of alcohol abuse disorders. If you find that you’re drinking more and more alcohol in order to get to sleep, only to find you are lying awake at night, it could be that you’ve developed a dependency.

Other common symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

  • Sweating excessively in the absence of physical exertion
  • Losing interest in personal hygiene or grooming
  • Headaches caused by dehydration as a result of alcohol consumption
  • Lethargy
  • Drinking for stress relief
  • Experiencing intense cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking heavily on your own, sometimes to the point of passing out
  • Drinking at inappropriate times of the day, such as first thing in the morning when you have just woken up

Help for Alcohol Addiction at Manor Clinic

Manor Clinic treats people struggling with alcohol addictions every day. Our team of highly skilled medical professionals can help you to regain control of your life in a purpose built environment for recovery.

Alcohol addiction treatment at  Manor Clinic in Southampton includes:

  • Medically assisted alcohol detoxification for your alcohol addiction, if this is required
  • Structured group therapy
  • A high quality family programme
  • Access to 12-Step support groups
  • Free aftercare for life
  • Free family support for life

To start your road to recovery, get in touch with Manor Clinic and book your free addiction assessment. During this, we can discuss the difficulties you’ve been experiencing and set out a plan for turning your life around.

Contact The Manor Clinic Today

To discuss how the Manor Clinic team can help to support individuals and families dealing with an addiction issue or for further information on treatment and rehabilitation programmes, please call: 023 8046 4721 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. 

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