Sleep and Alcohol

An old home remedy for not being able to fall asleep is a “Hot Toddy” – a mixture of hot liquor with various additives (water, lemon, honey). It’s a wonder that any of the people using this old remedy ever got to sleep. What we now know about how to get better sleep shows us clearly that the effects alcohol has on sleep are not good. Many people using alcohol to try and fall asleep are asking, “Why does alcohol not let me sleep?”

So the question is not “Does alcohol interfere with sleep?” The question should be “What impact does alcohol have on sleep?’ When people drink alcohol, an effect on sleep is inevitable because even though alcohol is a depressant and will help the body fall asleep, it will create problems during the second half of the sleep cycle, when the effects have worn off and a backlash effect occurs.

When looking at tips for better sleep, almost everything you will find will cover alcohol and sleep patterns as well as the alcohol effect on sleep. Many younger people think that alcohol makes for great sleep through the night because when they drink a lot, they pass out and don’t wake up until late the next day. Such false logic would make it seem like that deep sleep was good sleep that could recharge the body. So alcohol and sleep seem to go together well. Unfortunately this does not take the second half of the night into account, where you may still be asleep, but you are not getting the good rest your body needs to function once you wake up. That’s why alcohol drinkers who pass out do not wake up feeling rested and revived the next morning. The quality of sleep was poor, and that poor sleep results in feeling awful the next day, usually with aches and pains in the neck and back from sleeping at a bad angle or tangled in sheets and blankets.

Perhaps the “Hot Toddy” was seen as good for the initial effects, but no one back then thought to ask, “Does alcohol interfere with sleep later in the night?” Checking these sleepers during the night, the observers would have been able to see the extra restlessness and wakefulness that would occur during the second half of the night. While they may have fallen asleep faster, people using alcohol will not wake as rested as their no-alcohol-before-bedtime counterparts.

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