Is There a Link Between Alcohol and Insomnia?

February 26, 2024

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When you consistently enjoy restful sleep, it’s easy to overlook its importance. If you’ve ever battled with insomnia, though, you’ll likely recognize the central role that sleep plays in maintaining health and well-being. Prioritizing high-quality sleep through good sleep habits is essential. While some might use alcohol in the evening as a means to relax or induce sleepiness, alcohol can disrupt sleep overall. In this guide to alcohol and sleep deprivation, we examine the following issues:

  • Can alcohol cause insomnia?
  • How are insomnia and alcohol consumption linked?
  • Why can’t I sleep when I drink alcohol?
  • Insomnia after drinking alcohol: what to do?

Does Alcohol Cause Insomnia?

People with insomnia often find it hard to keep a regular sleep schedule, and insomnia can be either acute, lasting a few days to weeks, or chronic, persisting for several months. While using alcohol as a sleep aid might seem effective at first, tolerance to its sedative effects can develop rapidly. This is illustrated in a small study where individuals without a history of alcohol use were given alcohol or a placebo before bed. Initially, alcohol did increase total sleep time and deep sleep, but these benefits diminished within a week. Participants eventually needed larger amounts of alcohol and sometimes still couldn’t sleep after drinking, increasing the risk of the development of alcohol use disorders.

Beyond this, consuming alcohol in higher doses, particularly over a long period, can worsen sleep quality by disturbing sleep, especially in the latter part of the night. The relationship between alcohol and insomnia is complex and dose-dependent. Research links alcohol dependence – where the body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol to the extent that cessation triggers withdrawal symptoms – with sleep disturbances like insomnia. 

The incidence of insomnia in those with alcohol dependence is high, Binge drinking, too, is associated with disrupted sleep patterns. Alcohol interferes with neurotransmitters that activate certain brain cells responsible for wakefulness, disrupting the entire sleep-wake cycle and potentially leading to insomnia.

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Alcohol and Sleep Quality

At first, alcohol consumption may seem to aid sleep due to its sedative properties on the CNS (central nervous system), making it easier to fall asleep. However, this benefit is temporary and can lead to a problematic reliance.

Rapid tolerance development means that over time, more alcohol is required to achieve the same sedative effect, leading to increased consumption and higher risks of developing alcohol use disorders.

Higher doses of alcohol, especially when consumed regularly over time, can significantly disrupt sleep patterns, particularly during the second half of the night, when it can lead to fragmented sleep.

A strong correlation exists between insomnia and alcohol dependence, with those struggling with alcohol dependence experiencing a much higher prevalence of insomnia.

Alcohol consumption can suppress the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for maintaining wakefulness, which disturbs the natural sleep-wake cycle and can contribute to the onset of insomnia.

How to Stop Alcohol Insomnia

Here are some ways to combat insomnia from alcohol:

  • Establish a bedtime routine: Creating a consistent evening ritual can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep, which can help combat insomnia without relying on alcohol.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed: Refraining from alcohol, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, can prevent the disruptions it causes in your sleep cycle and improve overall sleep quality.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment: Ensure that your sleeping area is quiet, dark, and cool. Consider using earplugs, eye shades, or white noise machines if necessary to create an ideal sleeping environment.
  • Exercise regularly but not before sleep: Engaging in regular physical activity can promote better sleep. That said, avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime as they may keep you awake.
  • Seek professional help: If alcohol insomnia persists, consult a healthcare provider or a sleep specialist who can offer tailored advice and possible treatments for improving sleep.
  • Consider relaxation techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or gentle yoga can relax the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep naturally.
  • Limit caffeine and nicotine: Both substances can interfere with sleep, so it’s best to avoid them in the afternoon and evening.
  • Manage stress: Reducing stress through counseling, therapy, or stress management techniques can alleviate anxiety that often contributes to insomnia.

Treatment for Alcohol and Insomnia

Treating alcohol insomnia involves a blend of medical and behavioral strategies. The approach often involves a comprehensive assessment by a healthcare professional to identify any underlying conditions contributing to sleep disturbances. From this assessment, a personalized treatment plan can be developed, which may include the following components:

  • Medications: Short-term use of non-addictive sleep aids may be prescribed to help re-establish a regular sleep cycle. These medications are carefully monitored to avoid dependency or interference with recovery.
  • CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia): This specialized form of therapy is designed to address the thoughts and behaviors that disrupt sleep. It includes techniques such as stimulus control and sleep restriction, which help people develop healthy sleep habits and attitudes.
  • Sleep hygiene education: Educating individuals about good sleep hygiene is crucial. This includes establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable and conducive sleep environment, and avoiding stimuli before bedtime, such as screens, caffeine, and heavy meals.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can reduce anxiety and promote a state of calm, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.
  • Physical exercise: Regular physical activity in the morning or afternoon can help regulate sleep patterns and improve sleep quality. However, it is advisable to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
  • Nutritional support: Proper nutrition can impact sleep. A balanced diet that includes an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals may improve sleep quality. Avoiding alcohol and reducing the intake of sugar and caffeine can also be beneficial.
  • Support groups: Engagement in support groups can provide a sense of community and shared experience, which can alleviate feelings of isolation that often accompany insomnia.
  • Monitoring and follow-up: Regular follow-up appointments allow for monitoring progress and making necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

By addressing the issues of drinking alcohol and insomnia with a multi-pronged approach, individuals in recovery from alcohol addiction can improve their sleep, which in turn supports overall health and well-being, making it an essential component of a successful recovery journey.

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Get Treatment for Mental Health Disorders From Insomnia at Connections

Getting help from a mental health center that cares and uses science-backed methods can drastically improve the lives of anyone dealing with challenges stemming from mental health disorders as a result of insomnia like paranoia, substance use disorders, etc.

At Connections Mental Health in Southern California, we’re here to support you in feeling better and functioning more effectively in your life.

We only take in up to six people at a time for treatment. This way, you get the individual attention you need for your mental health, plus the benefit of support from a small group of peers.

If you’re ready to tackle mood disorders or any other mental health issue, our skilled team will be with you every step of the way. Our treatment program includes different types of therapy, like talking therapies, motivational therapies, counseling, medication management, and holistic interventions.

You can reach out to our friendly team at 844-759-0999 to learn more about getting help dealing with personality disorders or any other mental health issues.

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