Many people like a glass of wine or cocktail with their dinner, or maybe a drink in the evening. While this can seem relaxing and soothing, consuming alcohol too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect.

Some even use alcohol as a sedative believing it helps them to fall asleep easier and treats their insomnia. Unfortunately, alcohol and sleep quality do not go hand in hand.

Drinking before bed can interfere with REM sleep and disrupt a good night’s rest.

Read on for more information on alcohol and REM sleep.

What Is REM Sleep

Sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. It is when your body has a chance to restore and repair itself, boost the immune system, and strengthen bone and muscle. These activities happen during REM sleep.

It is called REM because of the Rapid Eye Movement that is a characteristic of this cycle of sleep. A normal night has various sleep cycles, with REM being the most important. It starts around the 90-minute mark of sleeping but comes back around throughout the night.

This is also the time when you have the most vivid dreams. Any disruption in REM will be felt the next day in daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and loss of concentration. 

The Effects of Alcohol and REM Sleep

Alcohol will indeed make you sleepy. It acts as a sedative and depresses the body’s functions. This causes you to get tired and go to sleep. The problem is what happens after you fall asleep.

The use of alcohol has a negative impact on REM sleep in the later cycles during the night. It disrupts REM and doesn’t allow for the body to reap the benefits.

Also, alcohol will slow down your breathing and may initiate or worsen sleep apnea, which also robs you of needed restorative rest. It even slows down the production of melatonin, which is the body’s natural sleep aid. 

There are other side effects of alcohol and sleep. A person who becomes dependent on alcohol to fall asleep is more likely to experience sleepwalking, sleep talking, and suffer memory loss.

Alcohol and Sleep Deprivation

If you fall asleep after a drink or two, you may not feel you are sleep deprived. However, if your body is not getting the rest it needs, it will show the same signs as sleep deprivation.

When you do not get enough rest, you can become more anxious with stress-related symptoms. You will find it harder to concentrate and focus on your daily tasks. The ability to stay alert is compromised and you will feel groggy and sleepy throughout the day.

Mixing alcohol and sleep deprivation can also affect your heart rhythms. This is especially true if you also suffer from sleep apnea. It can even cause a life-threatening event. 

Sleeping Pills and Alcohol

Another bad decision is to mix sleeping pills and alcohol. It is frustrating when someone cannot fall asleep. Everyone knows the importance of a restful night, and when that doesn’t happen some people choose to self-medicate with alcohol and sleeping pills. This is a very dangerous combination.

There are many varieties of sleeping aids from prescription medicines, over the counter options, to even herbal remedies. They each have a different effect when combined with alcohol. Not all are life-threatening, but if not careful, some can be.

Alcohol is a sedative that slows down the body’s functions. Sleeping pills do the same thing. If the body has too much sedation, it will be extremely difficult to wake up, or not wake up at all.

Even when there isn’t an extreme reaction, even a slight one can cause difficulty. A person using both can easily become confused and dizzy. The fine motor skills can be affected making it hard to move around and almost impossible to drive.

Memory loss can occur. The heavy sedation will also lower breathing, decrease blood pressure, and slow down the heart rate. None of these side effects are worth the risk of just trying to fall asleep easier.

Healthy Sleep Habits

So what does one do when sleep evades and rest is elusive? Adopting healthy sleep habits is the first step to removing the temptation to use alcohol as a sedative.

The first step is to set a regular sleep pattern. This may take a while to figure out, but you should do your best to go to sleep and wake up at around the same time every day, regardless of work or play schedule.

Make your bedroom, and bed, a peaceful place. Do not use it for work or stressful activities. Keep it cool when sleeping and dark. If it is too quiet, use white noise like a fan. Do not use the radio or TV unless these are on a timer. The noise of these in a later cycle of sleep can also be disruptive.

Avoid caffeine, and yes, alcohol, in the evenings. Do not go to bed hungry, but try not to eat a big meal just before lying down. Have comfortable bedding and pillows.

Develop a calming bedtime ritual. You can read, write in a journal, or learn to meditate. Anxiety and stress are sleep killers. Try to leave those worries outside the bedroom door.

Do not use electronics for about an hour before you want to fall asleep. The blue lights emitted will play tricks on your brain and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Don’t Give Up

Despite all you do, sometimes sleep just does not come. If you have ongoing sleep issues, you should consult with your doctor. Together, you can work out safe sleeping aids.

The most important thing to remember is the damaging effects of alcohol and REM sleep. Do not fall into the trap of thinking a drink before bed will help you. It can easily backfire and cause more problems down the road.

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