Alcohol and sleep: a match made in hell
Sleep hasn’t always been my friend, but when I was drinking it was an especially wrought relationship. I would drink from early evening until bedtime, believing that it would help me sleep. I would instead lay awake for an hour or more, with heart racing, wondering where I had gone wrong. Once finally asleep, I would wake up a couple hours later, heart still racing like I’d been in a sprint. This was my normal night for years.
I was unable and unwilling to see the connection between my drinking and my poor sleep. Instead, I began adding things to the mix: over the counter sleep medications, melatonin, antihistamines, etc. All this did was worsen my sleep and make me feel drugged in the morning.
We are fed the belief that alcohol helps sleep. And if we even begin to question this fact, we are struck with the fear that removing alcohol will make our sleep even worse. So we remain stuck in this drinking-not sleeping cycle. Once I finally removed alcohol I was able to see just how much it was destroying my sleep. And since then, quality sleep has become one of the primary reasons I don’t return to drinking. It’s just never worth it. Waking up clear headed and full of energy never gets old. And you never regret not drinking.
So, enough about me. How have you been sleeping lately?
The Benefits of Good Sleep
We all know that sleep is essential, but do you really know the reasons why? Here’s a reminder. High quality sleep can help you:
- “Get sick less often
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Lower your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease
- Reduce stress and improve your mood [and mental health]
- Think more clearly and do better in school and at work
- Get along better with people
- Make good decisions and avoid injuries — for example, drowsy drivers cause thousands of car accidents every year” (Health.gov)
There are, however, some things you may not know:
- Sleep gets more challenging as we age. We have more trouble falling asleep, night waking increases, and the time we are asleep is not as high quality as we would like. (source)
- High quality sleep is more than just a number of hours or number of REM cycles you get in a night. It is a layered experience during which our body and brain heal, process, and grow. Waking up refreshed is the best way to judge your sleep – more so than sleep trackers can ever predict.
- We have a lot of control over the quality of sleep we get. Not 100% control, but a lot.
- Adding alcohol to the mix basically ensures we will suffer from poor sleep (source)
- Removing or reducing alcohol consumption is the biggest favor you can do for your sleep.
If you’re in need of some better sleep, here are some tips to help you get back on track:
- Make a nighttime routine. Our minds thrive on routine, and through it we can create sleep associations that trigger neurochemicals to induce sleepiness as we get closer to bedtime.
- Cut the caffeine in the afternoon or evening. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, so do some experimenting to figure out just how much caffeine you can tolerate before it impacts your sleep. I personally don’t drink any caffeine after 12 noon. Others have said that as long as they stop drinking it before 6 pm, they’re fine. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.
- Replace your evening caffeine and alcohol with herbal tea like Celestial Seasoning’s Tension Tamer and Sleepy Time Tea Extra. I like to combine the two. Another thing I found recently that helps me is CALM’s sleep supplement mix. Not only does this have melatonin (which is safe for children and adults at recommended amounts) but it also includes other sleep inducing elements such as GABA and L-theanine. I have to remind you that I am not a medical provider and cannot recommend what you put in your own body. I only speak for myself and what has worked for me.
- Make your room like a cold dark cave. Keep your room a cool 68 degrees, use earplugs and eye covers or blackout curtains. Basically, you’re trying to reduce heat (which gets in the way of sleep) and also reduce sensory input like sound and light.
- Find calming activities or entertainment an hour before bed. You want your heart rate to be low and help you calm, not excite, your mind. Studies are showing us that low levels of blue light from TVs and phones aren’t really that bad for our sleep. The more important thing to be aware of is the content of what we are watching.
- If your mind is racing, journal about it. Get those thoughts out of your head and onto paper so that you can put those thoughts to bed.
- Choose mindfulness and mindlessness to fall into sleep – think sleep meditations or a not-so-exciting audio book. I enjoy listening to non-fiction books that lean toward the technical or historic side. Meditation apps like Calm can also provide some great body scan meditations, which are proven to help you relax into sleep.
- Finally, if you keep waking up, get back to sleep with a meditation, an audio book, or some gentle stretching. If you still can’t get back to sleep, then get up and do a relaxing activity to get your mind off the fact that you can’t sleep. Forcing sleep never works.
I hope this has been helpful for you all. Like always, please let me know your thoughts by just replying to this email. I’d love your feedback! Also, if there’s anything else you’d like me to write about, please let me know!
Take good care everyone, and sleep well 😉