Alcohol and Sleep: Effects and Treatment

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Alcohol and Sleep: Effects and Treatment


Sleep problems (insomnia) are common with short and long-term use of drugs and alcohol. Nearly 70% of patients admitted for detoxification report sleep issues. 80% of those who report sleep problems relate them to their substance use.

The relationship between substance use and sleep issues appears to be bidirectional. Sleep problems can increase the risk of developing an addiction. Also, substance use can lead to inadequate sleep.

On a positive note, long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol can reverse some sleep problems.

The amount of sleep a person needs depends on many factors, including their age. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours. Some people may, however, need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours daily.


Alcohol and Sleep

Many people use alcohol as a sleep-promoting substance. However, alcohol has adverse effects on sleep. Many people who struggle with alcohol report sleep problems.

Typical complaints are difficulty falling asleep, waking up several times, daytime sleepiness, and poor sleep quality. In some cases, excessive sleeping can occur with alcohol use.

Unfortunately, sleep problems with alcohol use can be challenging to treat. Also, insomnia is the most common complaint among heavy drinkers who stop drinking.


Sleep Latency

This is the amount of time from lights out to sleep onset. It simply means the length of time it takes you to fall asleep.

Alcohol can decrease the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep. Heavy use of alcohol for long periods, however, prolongs this time.

The length of time it takes you to fall asleep is longer during periods of drinking, during withdrawals and in the post-acute withdrawal stage. Even after two months of stopping alcohol, sleeping may remain a problem. In some cases, sleep patterns return to normal after five to nine months. Of course, this duration varies from one person to another.


Total Sleep Time

Alarm clock to help people wake up People struggling with alcohol addiction usually have decreased total sleep time. Thus, alcohol affects both sleep latency and total sleep time in the same way.

The amount of sleep you get in total may, however, improve after long periods of quitting alcohol use. Different studies show varying results, with some highlighting improvements after about 19 weeks. One study showed normal total sleep time after 1-2 years of quitting alcohol.


Slow-Wave Sleep

Slow-Wave Sleep occurs in stage 3 and stage 4 of the sleep cycle. This stage of sleep is vital for learning, memory, and other cognitive performances. Cognition refers to the process of thinking, identifying knowledge, understanding, and perceiving it.

Alcohol is known to affect the total amount of slow-wave sleep you get. Again, different studies show variations regarding the time it takes to recover after you stop drinking.

Complete recovery of slow-wave sleep appears to occur after 1-4 years of abstinence. This long time frame shows how damaging alcohol can be for your sleep pattern.


Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

REM sleep is a phase of sleep that usually happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The first period of REM usually lasts about 10 minutes. Each of your later REM sleep stages gets longer. The last one may last up to an hour. During REM sleep, your brain is more active. Thus, you may have more intense dreams during this stage. For an adult, REM stages make up about 20% of total sleep.

Alcohol decreases the amount of REM sleep you get. It also affects the time it takes you to get into REM sleep. Considering the benefits of REM sleep, it is no surprise that this affects sleep quality.


Sleep Quality

Alcohol can affect the overall quality of your sleep. Sleep fragmentation is common with this substance. Hence, you may notice that you wake up quite often at night. Also, you may switch from deep sleep to light sleep more often. Due to these reasons, you may end up being awake for more extended periods at night.


Treating Alcohol-Induced Insomnia

Due to the effects of alcohol on sleep, treatment is sometimes necessary. Quitting drinking is the first step. Lifestyle changes are also helpful. In some cases, medications may be required.

It is, however, essential to stay away from habit-forming medications like benzodiazepines. Such drugs can easily lead to another addiction. Additionally, they can lead to severe health problems when mixed with alcohol.

Trazodone is a sleep aid commonly prescribed in people with addictions. It is used widely because of its lack of addictive potential. Melatonin is a medication easily obtained over-the-counter. This natural supplement is helpful for sleep.

There are several other sleep medications, but it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. Many medicines have side effects and can interact with other drugs you are on. Following up with your medical provider for proper treatment is highly recommended.

You can take an alcohol addiction quiz if you are unsure about alcohol being a problem for you.

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The entire content of AddictionBlueprint, including content on drugs and alcohol, medications, therapies, facilities, spotlights, recommendations, and other features is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers regarding your addiction, mental and medical issues.


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