How Alcohol Affects Sleep
A common misconception about alcohol is that it helps sleep. This couldn’t be further from the truth; alcohol absolutely wrecks our sleep and leads to more stress, exhaustion, and an inability to function in our daily lives. Because alcohol is a depressant, meaning it literally slows down (depresses) our different systems, it may make it easier to fall asleep initially. However, the sleep you get after that is poor quality and frequently disrupted. Alcohol use can also lead to insomnia and worsened sleep apnea. Ongoing poor sleep increases our risk for a host of illness, like heart disease, kidney diseases, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and mental health problems.
REM cycles: When we drink alcohol, it harms the first several REM cycles we experience during a night’s sleep, even reducing the number of nightly cycles from an average of 7 to 2. When our REM cycles are disrupted, this also impacts the other three non-REM cycles we experience, throwing the whole system out of whack. REM sleep is incredibly important, and affects things like depression, anxiety, memory. Poor REM sleep is even linked to increased risk for Alzheimer’s.
Circadian rhythms: Our circadian is our 24-hour internal body clock that regulates when we are asleep or awake. When we drink alcohol, we begin altering our circadian rhythm. When our circadian rhythms are disrupted for prolonged periods of time, this can increase our risk for a multitude of diseases and mental health issues.
Alcohol + Insomnia: If we regularly use alcohol as a sleep aid, it becomes increasingly likely that our bodies will become dependent on it to fall asleep. Studies have shown an increase in chronic insomnia among those who use alcohol for a prolonged amount of time.