Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.

We are taking advantage of Alcohol Awareness Month to inform you of how alcohol really affects your sleep.

People will often use alcohol as a quick cure for their insomnia, as it has the tendency to make them feel drowsy. According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 20 percent of Americans use alcohol to help them fall asleep. What they don’t realize is, that though it can make you drowsy, it won’t help you sleep. In fact, after initially falling asleep, the remainder of the night is often disrupted.

Findings published in an issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research -based on a review of the research from 27 previously completed studies- shows that in addition to disrupting your regular sleep, drinking to get drowsy can cause these other, sometimes serious, problems:

  • Negative Effects on Brain Patterns

Having a drink before bed can be linked to more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. This is the deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning. However, with alcohol in your system, alpha activity is also on. Usually, alpha activity doesn’t happen during sleep, but when you are resting. With both activities happening simultaneously, restorative sleep is inhibited.

Though drinking may help you fall asleep more quickly, it may also wake you up in the middle of the night. The National Sleep Foundation states that one explanation for this is, after drinking, production of adenosine (a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain) is increased, allowing for a fast onset of sleep. But it subsides as quickly as it came, making you more likely to wake up before you’re truly rested.

  • Impairs REM Sleep

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep, is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It is the stage in which dreams happen, and per the study review, drinking alcohol before sleep decreases the amount of REM sleep you get in the night. When you don’t get enough REM sleep it can lead to difficulties concentrating, excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue, and other sleep deprivation issues.

  • Aggravates Breathing Problems

Alcohol causes your muscles to relax, including the muscles of your throat. As a result, you are more prone to snoring and sleep apnea.

  • Increase in Nighttime Bathroom Trips

Your body usually knows that nighttime is for sleep, and is not the appropriate time for trips to the bathroom. Basically, your body puts your bladder into hibernation overnight. However, being a diuretic, alcohol can make you need to use the bathroom a few times in the middle of the night- interrupting your sleep. It will also cause you to be dehydrated, causing you to wake up thirsty and with a dry nose and mouth.

  • Alcohol Dependence

Turning to alcohol as a sleep aid increases your risk of developing a dependence on alcohol. Given the range of problems drinking to get drowsy can cause, using alcohol as a sleep aid is not advised.

If you are struggling to sleep at night please don’t turn to over the counter medicines, drugs, or alcohol to self-medicate. Talk with your doctor, or schedule a consultation with Valley Sleep Center, to determine if your sleep problems are the result of an underlying sleep disorder or medical condition so that you can get the proper treatment and get the sleep you need.