The Alcohol Insomnia Relationship

What is the relationship between alcohol and insomnia? There are only a few alcohol insomnia studies. The vast majority suggest that abstinence is the best course of action for anyone suffering from any kind of sleep disorder.

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Although we do not know exactly how alcoholic beverages affect the brain, there are some things that we do know. When first consumed, alcohol acts as a stimulant, making us more awake, active and alert.

This is because the alcohol is quickly converted within the body into sugars, causing blood sugar levels to rise. It is the same effect that occurs when you eat a candy bar or anything containing sugar.

It takes very little time for the body to convert these simple sugars into blood glucose. The sharp rise in blood glucose levels is associated with increased energy levels. But, there is a rebound effect.

As glucose levels begin to normalize, there is fatigue. The fatigue is sometimes accompanied by irritability, especially in those people that have poorly controlled glucose levels as a result of diabetes or other diseases.

Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages can eventually lead to type II or adult-onset diabetes, because of the effect that it has on glucose and insulin levels. Not only is alcohol and insomnia a bad mix, excessive consumption is associated with a variety of health problems.

A great deal of research suggests that moderate consumption (1 or 2 drinks per day) can be good for your health. But, there are some cases in which even small amounts could be detrimental.

Bottles of BeerWith heavy drinking of alcohol insomnia can be one of many serious consequences. Photo: Matthew Bowden
Bottles of BeerWith heavy drinking of alcohol insomnia can be one of many serious consequences. Photo: Matthew Bowden

An alert published by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns against even moderate consumption for people that suffer from sleep disorders. A review conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine suggests that patients with mood and anxiety disorders should abstain as well.

There are mixed opinions about the alcohol insomnia connection, but according to researchers, when the beverages are consumed within an hour of bedtime, they disrupt the second half of sleep. You may fall asleep faster, but you are more likely to sleep fitfully.

Studies have shown that people who regularly consume alcohol have more periods of REM sleep, which is essential but less restful than SWS, slow wave sleep. Even alcoholics who have been abstinent for years tend to exhibit this same pattern.

Studies have shown that people who regularly consume alcohol have more periods of REM sleep, which is essential but less restful than SWS, slow wave sleep. Even alcoholics who have been abstinent for years tend to exhibit this same pattern.

Cessation of alcohol and insomnia are commonly linked. This may be one reason that relapse is common among recovering alcoholics. As they return to drinking, there is a brief return to what they perceive as an improved ability to sleep. It is only a perception.

Normally, only about 25% of a night’s sleep time is spent in REM. The rest is SWS, which is deeper. It is harder to wake someone who is in SWS than it is someone who is in REM sleep.

When one is “under the influence”, 50% or more may be spent in REM. The dreams are akin to alcoholic hallucinations according to researchers.

A few older studies have focused on the consumption of alcohol and insomnia relief. There are some observational studies indicating that people who are moderate drinkers are less likely to be insomniacs.

That does not mean that the drug is a useful treatment for sleep disorders. It may mean that moderate drinkers are calmer and tend to practice moderation in all aspects of their lives.

It is important to remember that beer, wine and liquor are psychoactive drugs. They affect the production of neurotransmitters within the brain. This can have a stimulating or a sedating effect. As the drug wears off, there are side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

Another alcohol insomnia warning is that it can and will interfere with any other drug that you might be taking. So, while it might seem like a good idea to have a drink, if you have a sleep disorder it’s not. With heavy drinking of alcohol insomnia can be one of many serious health consequences.

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