How mindful drinking could help you sleep

By Emily Barker

Does alcohol help you sleep?

For many people drinking alcohol is a regular part of life, but the truth is that evening glass of wine could be playing havoc with your sleep.

While it may seem tempting to have a nightcap to help you drift off, you may find that you will wake up in the morning feeling worse than if you hadn’t drank at all and not just because of the hangover.

How alcohol disrupts your sleep

Alcohol is two things - a stimulant (which is why you can end up dancing on tables til 2am) and a sedative (causing you to fall asleep in the middle of that Netflix show you really wanted to watch).

The sedative part is the bit that means you will probably fall asleep when your head hits the pillow, which sounds great, right? Unfortunately, despite getting to sleep quicker, you might find yourself waking up suddenly in the middle of the night as the alcohol leaves your system.

“All the alcohol you’ve drunk in the evening has usually gone from your body about halfway through the night, then there tends to be a rebound effect where you are more awake in the second half of the night;” said Dr. Kirstie Anderson, sleep specialist and co-founder of Sleepstation.

Despite the fact that alcohol may reduce the time taken to fall asleep and can lead to deeper phases of sleep (at least initially), it potentially suppresses other important phases of sleep such as rapid eye movement sleep (REM). Once the alcohol clears from the system there is a ‘rebound’ from the suppressed phase of sleep leading to increased REM sleep as well as more awakenings and lighter sleep. This can lead to more bizarre and intense dreams.

This can leave you feeling exhausted when you wake up, as alcohol-induced sleep is less restorative.

If that wasn’t enough alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning you will probably also need to get up to use the bathroom during the night.

Altogether, alcohol before bed can significantly reduce the likelihood of you getting that long night of sleep you’d hoped for.

How cutting down on alcohol could help you sleep longer

Cutting down or not drinking at all will definitely help to improve your sleep. Drinking less alcohol will allow your brain to spend more time in deep sleep, and you are less likely to wake during the night.

At Sleepstation we suggest you don’t consume fluids two hours before bedtime, so if you are planning on drinking alcohol it might be best to have a cut off point in mind before you start.

Remember - the more you drink, the bigger the impact on your sleep. If you drink alcohol every night, it can be a good idea to begin by aiming for a few nights off per week and see how that makes you feel in the morning. Or, try alternating between non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks to reduce your intake.

You may find that, despite not dropping off as quickly when you don’t drink alcohol, you actually feel better when you wake up in the morning.

I want to cut down or stop drinking, but it’s hard

Stopping or cutting down on drinking can be tough, but you’re not alone. According to Club Soda, an online group that helps people become more mindful about their drinking, one in four people in London (1.5 million Londoners) are already drinking mindfully and moderately.

If you want to take a few nights or more off from drinking you don’t have to sit at home feeling glum. You can still go out to the pub with your mates, and try a non-alcoholic drink instead. Club Soda recommends trying a non-alcoholic beer such as Nanny State from Brewdog or 0% Heineken, or maybe a mocktail.

I stopped or cut down on drinking and now I can’t sleep

Some people find that when they do stop or cut down on drinking, at first they actually find it harder to sleep.

“If you used alcohol as a coping mechanism for finding it hard to get to sleep, then you have to deal with the underlying issue. Alcohol has been influencing your sleeping pattern for many years. It can take the body a bit of time to adjust to a normal sleep cycle that is not chemically induced;” says Laura Willoughby, the creator of Club Soda.

People who suffer from Insomnia often feel worried or anxious about sleep, if you’ve been using alcohol to help you relax then it’s possible that you’ve been masking a sleep disorder that needs treatment.

Changing your sleep habits

Discovering whether you have a sleep disorder and getting the right treatment for it could make a huge difference to not only to your sleep, but your overall wellbeing.

Many people suffer with Insomnia and sleep problems for years without seeking treatment, and use things such as alcohol to help. Over the long term, this can be dangerous, particularly if you are combining alcohol with sleeping pills.

At Sleepstation our Insomnia treatment is drug-free and we encourage you to develop positive sleep habits and teach you how to control your sleep using evidence based methods, in particular - CBTi, which has been found to be the most effective method to treat Insomnia.

Many of the people who have used Sleepstation have had sleep problems for decades, and find they are able to get back to sleeping normally after just four weeks following the Sleepstation programme.

Complete a short questionnaire to find out how we can help.

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Did you know?

Alcohol will help you drift off easier, but you will spend more of the night in REM sleep meaning that you will often wake up feeling exhausted.


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