Alcohol takes toll on achieving REM sleep

Thursday, October 29, 2015 | By JP Emerald Coast

It’s an age-old idea: A drink before bed leads to better sleep.

Whether it’s a night cap of whiskey, a glass of red wine or more than a few drinks to help someone ease into drowsiness, drinking might not be the bedtime buddy we’ve always thought it was. In fact, it may be working against us.

Studies show that having one or more drinks before bed does not help us achieve better sleep, it actually decreases the quality of sleep for the entire night. Decreased sleep quality can lead to a variety of problems while asleep and awake.

The Myth of the Night Cap

For decades and perhaps even centuries, it has been common practice to use alcohol for help falling asleep. Many people feel alcohol helps them fall asleep faster than normal, but also helps them remain sleeping for longer than usual. This belief led to the ritualization of the “night cap,” or the practice of having one, strong drink (like whiskey) before heading under the covers for the night.

Why Do People Drink Before Bed?

Many people have one or two drinks before bed as a ritual or bedtime routine that is considered helpful in sleeping restfully. Additionally, it is common practice for individuals to have multiple drinks before bed due to their lifestyle: going out with friends at night and indulging in too many drinks. Having multiple drinks before bed can destroy that night’s sleep, but regular before-bed alcohol consumption can be even more detrimental.

What are the Effects of Alcohol on REM Sleep?

Scientists have been studying the effects of alcohol on sleep and have found little to no evidence that alcohol helps promote a restful sleep. In fact, one or many drinks can have harmful effects on sleep.

Studies show that while alcohol may help individuals to fall asleep faster than sober individuals in some cases, the overall quality of sleep is decreased. These studies revealed that people who have no alcohol in their system are able to achieve a more restful sleep and maintain that state for longer than individuals under the influence of alcohol. Specifically, alcohol effects the REM sleep cycle.

The REM sleep cycle typically begins after about ninety minutes of uninterrupted sleep and is when vivid dreams can occur. REM sleep is important to the body for restorative purposes and is thought to promote concentration when we are awake. Alcohol can deprive us from reaching this healthy state of sleeping.

Does Alcohol Effect Sleep Patterns?

Now, we know that alcohol has a negative effect on sleep quality during the night. However, what are the effects of alcohol on overall sleep patterns? Sleep patterns refer to the time spent awake and asleep each day.

Regular alcohol consumption can lead to a long-term problem regarding sleep patterns. Because sleep quality is compromised from alcohol consumption, regular alcohol before bed can lead to a number of problems including:

  • Exhaustion during the day
  • Sleeplessness during the night
  • Frequent waking during the night
  • Irritability when awake
  • The need for more alcohol to fall asleep at night
  • Drowsiness during daily activities, like driving

By hurting sleep quality during the night, we can harm our sleep patterns and even daily activity. Sleep is an essential component to overall health, mood and daily productivity. Without enough restorative sleep, many areas of our lives can suffer tremendously.

Safe Ways to Promote Sleep

If you’re searching for a way to get better sleep, you’re on the right track to a happier and healthier life. However, alcohol is not a safe or effective way to gain better quality, restful sleep. If you’re struggling with getting enough sleep, there are research-supported ways to increase your chances for better rest. The following list is a compilation of ideas to promote better sleep at night:

  • Exercise during the day
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine in the evening
  • Avoid screens, like phones and TV, for an hour before bed
  • Meditate before and after sleep
  • Reserve the bed only for sleeping and sex (not for hanging out or watching TV)
  • Schedule regular daily sleep and wake times
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine (reading, brushing teeth, music, etc.)

If you’ve tried these healthy ways to achieve restful sleep and are frustrated by a lack of results, it may be time to consider consulting a professional for more individualized help.

Quitting Alcohol Before Bed

If you’re interested in discontinuing alcohol use, but are concerned about how to do it or how it will affect your sleep, consider getting help. Professional help can ease the transition from regular alcohol use or alcoholism to a sober life with more rest — and more energy!

If you’d like to start learning about your options for quitting alcohol and getting great rest, contact us today at JourneyPure Emerald Coast.

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