Have you been struggling to get some quality sleep? Alcohol may be the culprit.
If you’ve experienced that drowsy feeling after enjoying a glass of wine or a pint of beer, you may have also considered drinking a glass of your favorite chardonnay or IPA to help you fall asleep at night. And you aren’t alone in that.
“Enjoying a drink with dinner isn’t a bad thing,” says Benjamin Kum, DO, addiction medicine specialist and family doctor at Geisinger. “But if you have too many or drink too late, it can have a negative impact on your sleep.”
Alcohol’s effect on sleep
While a drink before bed can help you fall asleep, it can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night — whether it’s because you have to use the bathroom or because of the sleep hormone adenosine. Alcohol causes your body to produce a surplus of adenosine, which helps you fall asleep. When your body stops producing it, which happens quickly after the initial surge produced by alcohol, you’ll be more likely to wake up before you’ve gotten enough sleep.
Alcohol also disrupts your natural sleep pattern — your circadian rhythm — and blocks REM sleep, which is your most restorative time of sleep. If you get enough REM sleep, you’ll wake up feeling fully rested. Without it, you’ll have a hard time focusing and will feel groggy the next day.
On top of all that, alcohol can cause you to snore more. “Alcohol affects your entire body, causing it to relax,” says Dr. Kum. “And that includes your breathing and the muscles in your throat. Don’t be surprised if you wake up the next day to complaints about your snoring, because those relaxed muscles can lead you to snore more than usual.”
How and when to drink at night: Setting a healthy bedtime routine
The best time to enjoy your drink is, according to research, around the traditional “happy hour.” Having a drink with dinner in the middle evening hours is when your body is most prepared to process alcohol.
“If you do have a drink later in the evening, limit yourself to less than you would normally have earlier in the day,” says Dr. Kum. “The more you drink close to the time you’ll fall asleep, the more it will negatively impact your sleep that night.”
If you enjoy a drink every now and then, be mindful of how you feel the next day and avoid drinking anything that evening. Setting guidelines like this, paired with healthy sleeping habits, can help you get the quality sleep you need each night.
Other healthy sleep habits to practice include:
- Keeping your bedroom at a cool temperature
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evening
- Exercising regularly, but at least a few hours before bed
- Setting a regular bedtime and waking hour schedule
“Proper sleep hygiene is essential for your overall health, including your immune health, so be mindful of alcohol’s effect on your sleep,” says Dr. Kum.
When to seek help for alcohol addiction
Alcohol should not be used as a regular sleep aid. “If you need a medication to help you with sleep, call your doctor,” says Dr. Kum. “They can help you find one that works best for you and rule out other sleeping disorders, including sleep apnea.”
Using alcohol as a sleep aid can led to alcohol misuse. When someone is having difficulty with their alcohol intake, including beer, wine or liquor, they may experience some or all of these symptoms:
- Chronic, unexplained tardiness
- Isolating behavior
- Noticeable changes in mood
- Losing interest in their regular activities or hobbies
- Poor financial decisions while under the influence
- Being under the influence at inappropriate times
- Slurred speech
- Coordination problems
- Missing work or school
- Smelling like alcohol
“Watch for these symptoms in yourself and your loved ones and know that help is just one phone call away,” says Dr. Kum.
Addiction treatment at Geisinger Marworth Treatment Center
If you or a loved one are dealing with substance abuse or addiction, Geisinger Marworth can help. With both inpatient and outpatient programs, as well as numerous counseling resources available, we’ll help you or your loved one find the right treatment path and help get them live a healthier life without alcohol or drugs.