The damage alcohol is having on your sleep – expert tips

Jeremy Vine guest calls for ban of alcohol on flights

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As the festive season reaches an end many people will admit to overindulging when it comes to alcohol. While drinking in moderation is recommended it is widely known that too much alcohol can have an adverse effect on our health. And this includes impacting our sleep cycle.

With this in mind, experts from rehab clinic Delamere spoke with about the effects of binge drinking on sleep.

“Alcohol is commonly used as a sleep aid and will undoubtedly help you drift off, as it causes brain activity to slow down, which can induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness,” they said.

“But consuming alcohol in excess can affect the quality of your sleep and cause negative effects, from headaches and dehydration to increased need to urinate and overheating.

“When alcohol is consumed, the substance is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach. Enzymes in the liver metabolise the alcohol throughout the night.

“During this process, the alcohol will still be circulating through the body, causing sleep disruptions and poor sleep quality.

“Binge drinking, which involves consuming more than six units of alcohol in a single session, can send our bodies into deep sleep, disrupting the first two cycles of REM sleep.

“As alcohol is a depressant, the start of sleep is often shorter for individuals, and some fall into deep sleep quicker than usual.

“This often creates an imbalance in the sleep cycle between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and disrupts the restorative stage our body needs.

“This can leave us feeling exhausted the following day, no matter how long we stay in bed.”

What does research say?

According to a 2018 study, published in the JMIR Mental Health journal, alcohol can significantly affect sleep quality, regardless of unit consumption.

The experts explained: “The researchers analysed the sleep and alcohol habits of more than 4,000 adults between 18-65 years old.

“Findings revealed that low alcohol intake reduced sleep quality by 9.3 percent, moderate alcohol intake reduced sleep quality by 24 percent and heavy alcohol-reduced sleep quality by nearly 40 percent.”

What other sleep problems are caused by alcohol?

“Studies have confirmed a strong correlation between long-term alcohol abuse and chronic sleep issues. Individuals can develop a strong tolerance for alcohol rapidly, often resulting in them drinking more alcoholic beverages before bedtime to initiate sleep,” they said.

They warned of the following effects:

Vivid dreams and nightmares – With alcohol following through your system, you are more susceptible to nightmares and vivid dreams. When your blood alcohol level drops, sleep becomes shorter, and you experience more dream recall and REM sleep.

Sleepwalking and parasomnias – Alcohol increases the risk of sleepwalking by increasing the quality of slow-wave sleep you experience when in your system.

Breathing problems – Consumption of alcohol can cause irregular breathing and is formally known as sleep apnea, a disorder characterised by abnormal breathing and loss of breath during sleep. Sleep apnea is caused by the throat muscles relaxing, which creates more resistance when breathing.

Alcohol can increase the likelihood of snoring, as it relaxes the muscles in the body, which means the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose will stop air flowing smoothly, which will cause a vibration.

How to improve sleep while drinking

They advised: “You need to give your body time to process the alcohol you have consumed before you attempt to sleep.

“It takes on average two hours per unit to process alcohol, but this can vary from person to person.”

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