Hands up, who finds it easier to nod off to sleep after a few drinks?
If you raised your hand, you’re among the many Australians who use alcohol to induce sleep. But it might surprise you to know you’re setting yourself up for a restless night.
How does alcohol affect sleep?
It’s true; alcohol has a sedative effect that gets you nodding off initially. However, by the second half of the night, the sedative effect wears off, causing restlessness, frequent waking and poor sleep quality – 3:00 am dry horrors anyone?
So, is the answer to drink more to make alcohol’s sedative effect last longer? No.
When I was a drinker, I believed that I would never get to sleep if I didn’t drink before bed. Here’s the thing. The more you drink, the more you need because your body gets used to the sedative effect. Worse still, alcohol is doing more than helping you nod off. Alcohol is messing with your underlying sleep cycles known as NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement).
Alcohol alters REM sleep
Whether you drink one glass of alcohol or several before bed, you’re asking your body to spend the night converting alcohol into a less toxic substance.
In the meantime, the alcohol in your system keeps you in the light stages of NREM sleep. Consequently, you don’t enter the deeper NREM and REM cycles where restorative sleep and cellular repair occurs. As a result, you experience next-day fatigue and sleepiness.
Why then do I sleep poorly when I stop drinking?
Initially, when I first stopped drinking, I felt it most at night. Either I had trouble sleeping or staying asleep. Subsequently, I’d wake the following day feeling just as tired as when I was drinking. Naturally, that left me questioning the ‘so-called’ health benefits of sobriety.
In short, I hadn’t considered the withdrawal effects of alcohol and my brain adjusting to not having a regular sedative. While I kept reminding myself that my sleep disruption due to going alcohol-free was only temporary, resisting the urge to resume drinking again took some willpower.
Fortunately, after a few weeks, my sleep patterns began to balance out, and my sleep quality improved, making it easier to live without alcohol.
6 ways to improve sleep without drinking
During the first stages of my alcohol-free journey, I found many ways to improve my sleep, including:
- reducing my caffeine intake
- using a fitness tracker that measures REM or deep sleep cycles so that I could monitor my improvement
- creating a new bedtime routine, like have a shower or meditating
- going to bed and waking at the same time
- having no screen time two hours before bed
- putting away phones and tablets (where I couldn’t see or hear them)
- making my bedroom dark and quiet
These techniques may well help you. Give them a try. But if you really can’t sleep without drinking, you may want to reach out to other support services, starting with your GP.
Changing your relationship with alcohol
Let me reassure you changing your relationship with alcohol takes time and support. Involve trusted family and friends in your sobriety journey. You’ll be surprised by how willing people are to help.
Not drinking doesn’t spell the end of your social life—quite the opposite. You’ll have more energy and stamina than before. So, for your next social outing, choose zero alcohol. There is a host of award-winning alcohol-free cider, beer, wine, and spirits available.
Visit tabooze.com.au to explore the exciting options awaiting your taste buds.
Need more help?
Find alcohol support, counselling, and more information at:
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.