How Does Alcohol Impact Sleep?
We’re taking a look at the science behind alcohol’s interaction with your body, and how it impacts your sleep.
If you’ve ever consumed alcohol, you know that it tends to slow everything down. It’s a Central Nervous System depressant, which means your inhibitions are relaxed, reaction times become longer, and motor skills are impaired. But while it can make you feel sleepy, it doesn’t necessarily help with sleep.
It can affect your sleep cycle
One of the ways that alcohol impacts sleep is by interfering with the normal sleep cycle. Here’s how it works: The sleep cycle is divided into two main stages—rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is associated with dreaming and is considered the most restorative stage of sleep. Non-REM sleep is divided into three stages, with the first two being considered light sleep and the third stage being considered deep sleep. Alcohol consumption can disrupt the progression through these stages, leading to more time in the shallow, less restful sleep stages. According to PsychCentral, “Following alcohol consumption, REM sleep is inhibited. Alcohol can increase the quantity of non-REM sleep during the first half of the night, but it decreases REM sleep in the second half.”
Strangely enough, alcohol can also act as a stimulant in your bloodstream later in the night. In an article in the New York Times, Dr. Jennifer Martin of UCLA said alcohol is, “initially sedating, but as it’s metabolized, it’s very activating.” At that point, “Your brain kicks into overdrive. You may toss and turn as your body undergoes a rebound arousal.” Not ideal for sleep.
It can increase night-time awakenings
According to Sleep Foundation, “As liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol during the night and the blood alcohol level decreases…individuals are more likely to experience sleep disruptions.” This is partly due to the increase in more shallow sleep, when the body is more likely to be awakened. But alcohol can also lead to sleep-disruptive behaviors like snoring (caused by the relaxation of the muscles in the throat) and sleep apnea (a more serious condition in which the airway is completely blocked). Both snoring and sleep apnea can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night, leading to feelings of fatigue and grogginess the next day.
It can cause nightmares
Research has shown that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of nightmares and other “parasomnias”, such as sleepwalking and night terrors. These disturbances can be disruptive to sleep and can lead to feelings of anxiety and distress, worsening sleep further.
If you're having trouble sleeping, alcohol might not be the answer. Consider whether alcohol consumption might even be playing a role and to talk to your doctor about strategies for addressing any sleep-related issues. If you’re experiencing sleep difficulties and want a natural way to help your body rest and recover, try Dream Powder, our best selling hot cocoa for sleep with 5 powerful natural sleep ingredients.
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