Why Does Alcohol Make Me Sleepy?

It has long been known that alcohol makes people sleepy. For example, “nightcap” is a term dating from the 19th Century referring to an alcoholic drink, often warm, taken just before bedtime that supposedly promotes a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, despite alcohol’s connection with sleepiness, many individuals will have a few drinks and then drive, thinking it won’t affect their focus or judgment, and often find themselves falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is dangerous for you and everyone else on the road, and alcohol only makes it more so. If you have ever asked yourself why alcohol makes me sleepy, you are not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that sleep-related problems affect a third of Americans. Since alcohol plays a role in sleep disturbances and disorders, treating Americans with alcohol problems can also help reduce their sleep-related issues. BlueCrest Recovery Center offers a professional alcohol rehab center for those struggling with tiredness from alcohol. Call 888.292.9652 to learn more about the effects of alcohol and sleep.

Why Alcohol Makes Me Sleepy – The Connection Between Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol is considered a depressant and directly affects the central nervous system. Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, it circulates to the brain, where it proceeds to slow down the firing of neurons. When neuronal firings decrease at a normal rate, it can result in relaxation, fatigue, and sleepiness. When they decrease at an accelerated or extreme rate, it can lead to a coma.

How Alcohol Tricks the Brain

It can be hard for people to realize the adverse effects alcohol has on them because of their preoccupation with the positive ones, like the feelings of relaxation and euphoria they associate with it. This is because alcohol has a biphasic effect on arousal and sleep. An agent with a biphasic effect first has one effect and then, after a time, switches to a different one. Alcohol first has an arousal effect, specifically when levels are at low doses or still rising. Then, when levels are higher or starting to drop, it shifts to producing a sleepy effect.

Effects of Alcohol on REM Sleep

REM sleep is the most restful and restorative stage of slumber. It is not, however, the deepest stage of sleep. Drinking alcohol too close to bedtime can interfere with the amount, duration, or consistency of the REM sleep you achieve. It can cause you to spend too much time in the lightest or deepest stages of sleep or flit between the two without spending enough time in the restful, restorative REM state your body most needs to achieve homeostasis. This state of equilibrium is often called “resetting the body clock.”

The effects of disrupted REM sleep include the following:

  • Disrupted functioning of circadian rhythms
  • Less restorative sleep
  • Dehydration and more frequent waking to void the bladder
  • Increased sleepwalking and sleep-eating
  • Increased snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep-disordered breathing activity
  • Increased propensity for vivid dreams and nightmares or night terrors, particularly during the second half of the night as more alcohol exits the system
  • Tiredness, trouble concentrating, and irritability the following day

Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can produce these effects. The more alcohol you drink before bedtime and the closer to bedtime you drink, the more it will impair your sleep.

Excessive drinking that leads a person to black out (lose memory) or pass out (lose consciousness) can severely disrupt sleep and produce these extreme symptoms. It can also contribute to worse hangover symptoms the following day.

Alcohol and Sleep Disorders

​​Alcohol disrupts the length and order of sleep cycle states. It also changes how long it takes to fall asleep and the total duration of sleep. Consuming alcohol can cause sleep disorders, such as:

  • Hypersomnia – Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Insomnia – Inability to fall asleep
  • Sleep latency – Delayed length of time to fall asleep
  • Sleep-disordered breathing – Snoring or sleep apnea
  • Sleep disturbances – Disruptions in the cycle or continuity of sleep

Sleep disturbances and sleep disorders have been associated with a number of other disorders, including substance abuse and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Moreover, researchers have found that this correlation may be bidirectional. This means that just as mental health issues and substance use can cause and contribute to sleep disturbances and sleep disorders, sleep disturbances and sleep disorders can cause or contribute to mental health issues and substance use.

Alcohol and Sleep

For people who drink alcohol before bedtime, certain other observations have been made. For instance:

  • Elderly drinkers are more at risk of experiencing sleepiness and sleep disturbances from alcohol use than younger drinkers.
  • Pre-bedtime drinking among the elderly can also be associated with an increased risk of unsteadiness and falls when waking during the night.
  • Late afternoon drinking, such as during a traditional happy hour, can cause wakefulness during the second half of that night’s sleep cycle.
  • The negative effects of sleep deprivation increase the sedative effects of alcohol consumed thereafter, posing risks of creating a self-perpetuating cycle in situations such as rotating work shifts and frequent world travel.

Contact BlueCrest Recovery Center

Do you often ask yourself, “Does alcohol make me sleepy?” The answer is a resounding “yes!” As nearly a century of research has shown, alcohol use disorders and sleep disturbances have a negative impact on one another. By treating one, you can help treat the other. By reducing alcohol consumption, you can improve your sleep. By improving your sleep, you can reduce your compulsions and cravings to drink.

If you believe you or a loved one has an alcohol use disorder, please get in touch with BlueCrest Recovery Center at 888.292.9652 or online.

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