Insomnia And Alcohol

Unraveling the Insomnia and Alcohol Myth
By Charles Somerville

If you've never suffered from insomnia, you can never really appreciate just what a debilitating condition it is.

Imagine night after night, lying awake staring at the ceiling willing yourself to sleep. The constant tick-tock of time reverberating around your head without respite, the endless vain efforts to make yourself fall asleep, if only just for a few minutes. And yet it never comes and so, another sleepless night behind you, you trundle on through the day, dreading the return of night and the crushing monotony that insomnia is.

Perhaps I'm being a bit of a drama queen, but the point I'm trying to get across is that insomnia is a very real problem that can affect an individual's psychological and physiological health. It is no wonder, then, that to many suffering from insomnia, alcohol can seem like the answer to their sleeplessness.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia goes by a number of names such as sleep disorder, sleeplessness, sleep issues and so on. There are three main ‘types' (each having a different symptom) of insomnia, usually sufferers will only display one of these, but it has been known for all three to occur in one individual:

Insomnia And Alcohol - Self-Medicating

Alcohol is cheap, readily available and easy to self-administer. It also has the immediate effect of making you feel drowsy. Such characteristics can make the insomnia-sufferer turn to alcohol for respite.

Yet, insomnia and alcohol do not make for comfortable bedfellows (no pun intended). The belief that alcohol makes you feel drowsy and sleepy is true, and it can help you get off to sleep, yet this only a small part of the picture. To get the full picture we need to understand the process of sleep a little better

The most important stages of sleep are stages 2 and 3, that is NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep). Deep sleep occurs at these stages and is essential for the body (and mind) to rest and ‘replenish' itself.

Alcohol makes it much more difficult for an individual to enter the deep sleep stage, for at least three reasons:

  • Alcohol can cause headaches (i.e. pain)
  • Alcohol is a diuretic (i.e. it induces the need to urinate)
  • Alcohol causes dehydration (i.e. causes thirst)

In other words, alcohol will actually cause you to wake up for one of the above reasons, soon after it induces sleep.

In short, although drinking seems to help insomnia sufferers, it actually does the opposite. Insomnia and alcohol do not mix; in fact, alcohol is a cause of insomnia. It is a myth that alcohol aids sleep.

If you are going to consume alcohol in the evening, then it is wise to do so a few hours before you plan to sleep, for the above reasons.

Read alcohol abuse effects for more on the impact that alcohol has on your health (both physical and mental.)

Insomnia: Your Options

So, if insomnia and alcohol are not to be mixed, what other options are there?

Go to your physician/doctor. The causes of insomnia are numerous and can include:

A physician will be able help you identify the cause of your insomnia, and then something can be done about it. 

The trick to beating a sleep disorder is to discover and treat the underlying condition and then, more likely than not, sleeping patterns should improve.  Whatever you do, do not turn to drink for help; insomnia and alcohol go hand in hand, down into the dark pit that sleepless nights create.

Charles Somerville is the writer of The Alcoholism Guide, a website that looks at alcoholism in all its forms and offers help and advice to alcohol dependents and those living with an alcoholic.

Learn more about sleep and insomnia on these pages:

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