My biggest problem with alcohol was with sleep. If I had a drink I could guarantee I would not sleep at all well. Research shows that although one person in seven — and more than a quarter of insomniacs — uses alcohol as an aid for sleep, alcohol definately effects your sleep pattern, even at relatively low levels.

The more you drink, the more tired you end up. So while it may help you fall asleep, it will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep which is obviously therefore not the best sleep and of course it may wake you up because you need to go to the bathroom more frequently. We need the right balance of REM sleep (dreaming sleep) and non-REM sleep (including deep sleep), and alcohol disturbs this.

The problem isn’t always obvious sleeplessness. You may feel that you slept well, especially for the first half of the night. During the first part of sleep, the alcohol increases the proportion of non-REM sleep and decreases the proportion of REM sleep, but it doesn’t greatly disrupt sleeping patterns. The problems come mainly in the second half of sleep, when REM falls off again and sleep becomes more disturbed. This may be partly because, in the second half of the night, your body is suffering alcohol-withdrawal symptoms once it has processed the alcohol you put in your bloodstream before going to sleep. It may also be a side-effect of some of the toxins produced by the breakdown of alcohol. Some say it is your liver trying to clear the alcohol toxins – some say it is the sugar that alcohol produces that is racing around your body.

People have have told me that after a heavy drinking session they are comatosed and cannot be woken up so they think they are sound asleep. However that is not true. If you’ve had too much to drink, you will have been taken over by the sedative effect of alcohol, which suppresses brain activity, rather than by true sleep, which is an active brain process. In addition, because you never reach the 3 and 4 stages of sleep you deprive yourself of the body’s natural mechanism for cell repair and to recuperate from the day’s events.

Alcohol also impairs breathing in sleep by relaxing the throat muscles and it affects the brain’s breathing center by masking the effect of low oxygen levels in the bloodstream, possibly damaging tissue. Even people who normally don’t snore do so if they have been drinking the night before. Snorers without apnea can exhibit apnea symptoms if they have been drinking. Alcohol induced apnea can be fatal.

Alcohol will also dehydrate you which will also affect your sleep. You wake up feeling really thirsty, down a big glass of water but then wake up later needing the bathroom. It is thought that half the reason people have a hangover is dehydration – the other is sleep deprivation.

The reason I stopped drinking was because of the poor sleep I got. Even after one drink, I would fall asleep easily, but then wake up between 1am and 3am and not be able to fall asleep again until dawn. Needless to say I was extremely tired the next day, very irritable and generally did not do anything well at all that day! It took me a few years (yes I am a slow learner) to realise that the day after was not worth the evening of drinking. Think about this: For an evening of drinking say 4 hours, you then feel terrible for about 12 hours the next day. For me I realised it simply wasn’t worth it.

How about you? Does Alcohol affect your sleep? Share your experience below.

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