The term “sleep disorders” refers to disruptions in a person’s quality and quantity of sleep. Individuals with insomnia may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or reaching a deep level of restorative REM sleep. Regardless of the details, the outcome is the same: a person wakes up in the morning feeling groggy and badly rested. While this may seem like a minor inconvenience, in reality, it can be consequential to your long-term health. Today, research indicates that alcoholism can cause sleep disorders like insomnia.
The Link Between Alcohol and Sleep Disorders
Some people falsely believe that a late-night drink can help them to fall asleep; in fact, 20% of American adults reportedly use alcohol for exactly this purpose. The truth is more nuanced. While alcohol does initially provide a sedating effect, studies show that drinking before bed can disrupt the second half of one’s rest period, causing fitful sleep that wakes one up before the end of the night and decreasing one’s ability to go back to bed after awakening.
Over time, this effect worsens. With continued consumption, alcohol’s sleep-inducing effects decrease, while its nighttime disturbances increase dramatically. This is especially true for those who have developed a tolerance, and also for elderly adults. In older people, drinking results in higher levels of alcohol in one’s blood and brain compared to their younger counterparts. Elderly people who drink before bedtime are at higher risk for injuries and falls if they get up and walk during the night.
Studies also show that alcohol-related sleep disorders aren’t limited to those before-bed drinks; having an alcoholic beverage as much as six hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the second half of the night.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Your Sleep Cycle
If you snore, you may be at higher risk than others for sleep apnea.
Chronic alcohol use is linked to increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea: a disorder in which the upper air passage closes or narrows while unconscious, interrupting one’s breathing. A person with this sleep disorder will stop breathing, wake up, resume breathing and fall back asleep. These incidents can happen dozens or even hundreds of times throughout the night, dramatically impacting one’s quality and quantity of rest.
Alcohol worsens these effects. Drinking before bed can narrow the air passage, triggering sleep apnea’s regular interruptions even in those who do not have this disorder.
I Stopped Drinking. Why Can’t I Sleep?
Those who are addicted to alcohol experience the most severe effects. It’s not unusual for alcoholics to report waking up often in the middle of the night, struggling to go to bed, experiencing lower quality rest, and dealing with severe daytime fatigue.
It’s natural to believe that upon entering a treatment program, one’s issues would be spontaneously resolved. However, like all aspects of recovery, restoring quality sleep takes time. During the process of detoxification, insomnia and persistent sleep fragmentation are common. In a clinical environment, it is fully possible to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which include a reduction in restful sleep, very brief periods of REM and frequent awakenings. By seeking qualified clinical care, you can find long-term relief from insomnia and nighttime disturbances.
The Secret to Getting Good Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation has provided a comprehensive list of healthy nighttime tips – habits that they say will lead to good sleep hygiene. To improve your quality of rest, they recommend that you…
Stick to a Schedule – Keep the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This regulates your body’s circadian rhythm, helping you to fall asleep (and stay asleep) for the night.
Create a Bedtime Ritual – Routine is critical to great rest. Separate yourself from bright lights and blue lights (such as those found on your television, phone and laptop) at a specific time each evening; allow yourself to wind down with a book or journal entry instead.
Avoid Naps – Napping may help you to get through the day, but it can throw off your body’s clock and ruin all chances of rest later in the night. If you’re having trouble staying asleep, address it by first eliminating naps.
Exercise Regularly – Think about how tired your dog is after a long walk, or how children tucker themselves out after exciting, fun-filled days at the pool. Physical activity helps to tire you out and prepare you for rest.
Remove Distractions – Design your bedroom to be the perfect sleep environment by cooling it off (between 60 and 70 degrees is ideal) and eliminating any noisy or bright objects that can disturb your slumber. You can purchase eye shades, ear plugs or blackout curtains to help with this process.
Find Addiction Recovery in Tennessee
We understand how challenging it can be to ask for help. If you’re experiencing sleep disorders due to substance use, we encourage you to contact Cumberland Heights today. Our comprehensive programming addresses all aspects of addiction – physical, mental and spiritual – and will help you to become the person you were always meant to be. To learn more about our services, contact our admissions staff today.