Alcohol has been used as a Sleeping Aid for centuries. A small ‘tot’ of whisky or other spirit has helped many adults drift off into a peaceful sleep. The initial sedative affect of a single drink taken occasionally to help you wind down and relax after a stressful day is unlikely to cause lasting damage.
Alcohol is seen as a relaxant because it stimulates the neurotransmitter that helps you calm down and sleep. This is why you feel relaxed and drowsy as adrenalin is temporarily suppressed. After a few hours the body tries to redress this imbalance and this causes sleeplessness. You may also experience dreams, sleep disturbances and early waking as excessive drinking interferes with REM sleep.
Too much alcohol near to bedtime will also cause dehydration and the need to drink more water and get up to go to the toilet. Headaches, nausea and restlessness will also make it difficult to sleep. The sleep you do get may be lighter and disruptive and you are likely to feel the effects of the night before well into the morning.
Sleep and Dependency
Increased drinking may be related to a number of other factors which also affect sleep. Stress and anxiety, an inherited tendency to addiction or being involved in a working or social life that encourages drinking, will all take their toll on the ability to sleep. All these factors affect sleep. Together they provide an effective cocktail that will almost certainly cause sleep problems, and will also affect long term mental and physical health.
Excessive drinking is often linked to other behaviours that affect sleep. Anxiety and depression, smoking, lack of exercise and a poor diet can create an environment where alcohol becomes difficult to manage. Many people find that their drinking increases slowly over a number of years and do not connect their sleep problems with their increased drinking and other lifestyle factors. The truth is; you cannot disconnect the way you live with the way you sleep.
Alcohol and Change
Alcohol dependency is more common in men, although women are increasingly at risk. Even lesser amounts may affect sleep and the sensible view by many experts is that a few alcohol free nights each week will help improve sleep. Alcohol increase often accompanies changes in weight. Being overweight affects sleep and heavier people are more likely to snore – affecting the victim, partner and sometimes other people within hearing distance!
Alcohol and Sleep Problems
Alcohol should be avoided by anyone suffering from sleep problems such as Sleepwalking. Alcohol affects the body’s ability to get the right amount of REM sleep. It is important that anyone suffering from a sleep disturbance or from insomnia restricts the amount of alcohol they consume and looks at other dietary factors if they want to eliminate or improve their condition.
Deciding when alcohol is a problem is difficult. For many people it is a pleasant part of life. Combined with a good meal and some agreeable company, most of us can sensibly accommodate a few glasses into our weekly schedule.
If excessive drinking is affecting sleep it is likely that by giving up alcohol, sleep will improve. If alcohol dependency makes it impossible to give up drinking outside help and support may be required. There are a number of therapy programmes and methods used to help and drugs may be temporarily prescribed to help with withdrawal.
If you do feel that you are suffering from a drink problem, there are many places that you can turn to for help and support:
- The Samaritans (08457 90 90 90)
- Drinkline (0800 917 8282)
Changing drinking habits is hard and support from friends, family and professionals will help with long term commitment. Diet is increasingly seen to be influential in alcohol dependency and nutritional advice may be helpful. The amino acid Glutamine has been shown to reduce cravings in a study of alcoholics, and alcohol intake has been connected with a deficiency of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs).
Alternative therapies such as Homeopathy and Acupuncture have proved helpful in treating some of the symptoms of dependency. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps address any underlying problems and creates a structure that will help prevent relapse. Yoga, meditation and other mind/body skills help rebuild the spirit ready to face and bond with the changing world.
Finding a way to face the world and leave the support of an addiction or dependency is long and hard. A peaceful night’s sleep is not the same as the oblivion that many addicts crave but fail to achieve. Regaining the balance between night and day may mean trying a number of therapies and seeking help and support. By assessing the causes of sleep problems and insomnia it may mean addressing other issues in life that are affecting wellbeing.