Alcohol and sleep
Sleep comes up a lot in the Club Soda community, the instantaneous need for it or the lack thereof to conk out after a few too many. It either hits you like a tonne of bricks, exhaustion seeping into your joints, and you could sleep for England. Or you’re left staring at the ceiling for hours, your mind going to all the anxious corners of our thoughts.
However, we also know how drinking alcohol affects our sleep. Having a drink before bed, might help us fall asleep but what follows is not so restful. Waking up at 2, 3 and/or 4 a.m, tossing and turning, gasping for water. Sound familiar? Even just a glass or two of your favourite tipple can cause you to miss out on the important stages of sleep, meaning you sleep more lightly. So, when we stop drinking, we’re kinda expecting sleep is a given. But what if it’s not?
You may be feeling some of these…
- Repeatedly waking up during the night
- Waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to return to sleep
- Having dreams that are disturbing
- Struggling to get to sleep at night
- Spending an excessive number of hours sleeping
- Not feeling refreshed after sleep
- Unable to sleep because of racing thoughts
- Feeling tired and drowsy during the day
- Falling asleep during the day
This could be caused by…
- Alcohol influencing your sleeping pattern for many years. It can take the body a bit of time to adjust to a normal sleep cycle that is not chemically induced.
- You may have some symptoms of withdrawal. These can be uncomfortable and may keep you awake at night.
- Not getting enough exercise during the day.
- You have begun to feel worry, feelings that booze may have blocked out. (I get quite anxious halfway to falling asleep and sort of have to start again.)
How does booze affect my sleep?
A night on the booze will most likely cause you to sleep deeper during the first part of the night, but later on the chances are you will be more restless than usual. This is known as the rebound effect. Alcohol is a fast acting drug, quickly entering the bloodstream and reaching the brain within minutes. But the effects are short lived. The liver quickly metabolises the alcohol and any sleepiness you felt quickly wears off. Once your Blood Alcohol Content goes down, sleep variables are reversed, leading to disturbed sleep. This is often the reason why drinkers often find themselves wide awake in the early hours of the morning.
In making big life changes by cutting back or quitting alcohol, having trouble sleeping or feeling drowsy, can leave us tired and irritable, weakening our resolve. After a few weeks, the majority of people report that their sleep does get better and they feel much more rested. The ability to enjoy a full night’s sleep and return to a normal sleep pattern can be one of the first signs that you are settling into a more sober life.
Why is sleep important anyway?
Mindfulness expert Andy Hix tells us about his experience of using Mindfulness Techniques towards a better sleep in ‘How mindful sleeping can help your mindful drinking’,
“My view was challenged by something I read in Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive. There was a whole chapter on the importance of sleep and how not getting enough reduces your emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy, interpersonal relationships, positive thinking and impulse control. I knew it was important but I didn’t realise it was that important!”
By going to bed an hour and a half earlier than usual (foregoing his usual tv sessions, social media scrolling and last email hits), he found that he was brighter the next day for it. By increasing his sleep, he has also cut out those jugs of caffeine mid-morning and afternoon, improving his concentration levels and ability to meditate. Andy adds, “Of course, once you’ve gone to bed, there’s the problem of actually going to sleep. Our minds are so hyperactive and over stimulated during the day, it’s little wonder many people find it hard to switch them off at night.”
So, what can you do?
- Develop a sleeping schedule and stick to it. This means deciding on an appropriate time to go to bed and to wake up. You can record your plans by joining Club Soda.
- It is not a good idea to spend hours lying awake in bed, because the brain begins to associate being in bed with being awake. If you find that they are unable to sleep, the best idea is to get out of the bed and do something relaxing like reading a book.
- Avoid all caffeinated drinks from the late afternoon onwards – it really does make a difference!
- No tech or TV 1hr before bed – mentally reinforce the idea that going to bed is about going to sleep.
- It is not a good idea to eat a large meal in the couple of hours before going to bed.
- Avoid day-time napping.
- Create a relaxing environment prior to going to bed, putting you in the right mood for sleep. This could mean dimming the lights and listening to relaxing music.
- Hot milk or chamomile tea before going to bed helps some people sleep better (if nothing else it helps reinforce a night time regime).
- Learn to manage stress – reducing that anxiety will help you sleep better at night. A common reason for drinking is to unwind after a stressful day at work or at home. This course teaches you how to take control of your stress, so you can stay relaxed and healthy without alcohol.
- Relaxation techniques such as meditation can help people sleep better at night. We like Headspace! Andy finds it helpful to count his breaths coming in and out, up to ten and then back again. It’s a relaxing exercise that the mind soon loses interest in, and then you’re out for the count! Our members are also talking about the merits of yoga on our Facebook group Club Soda.
- It might be worth buying a fitbit, or another wearable device, or downloading an app to monitor your sleep (such as Sleepbot or Sleep Time).
- Read Andy Hix’s experience of using Mindfulness Techniques towards a better sleep in ‘How mindful sleeping can help your mindful drinking’
- And finally, give it a bit of time. This is your body and mind getting used to a new lifestyle.