According to the Sleep Foundation, over 65 million people in the U.S. use alcohol as a sedative—due to its depressant drug classification. While alcohol can make a person drowsy, it does nothing beneficial for the quality of sleep a person has when sleeping after having a drink or two.
There are two phases of sleep: REM and non-REM sleep, with the latter having four different stages. What alcohol does is prevent a person from entering the REM phase, which means the individual is not allowing the brain and body to restore.
Without adequate time in REM sleep, studies have shown there are health risks involved. REM sleep allows a person to dream more vividly than the dreams experienced in other stages of sleep. Dreaming is vital in helping us process emotions. Imagine someone being unable to enter REM sleep because of excessive drinking. When awake and faced with the challenges and changes of daily life, the person’s response to the stressors that come could lead to increased consumption of alcohol as a means to cope.
When a person drinks, especially right before bed, its effects on sleep quality can be observed in two stages. Firstly, after alcohol exhibits its sedative effects that make the user increasingly drowsy, the first half of the night is characterized by a decrease in REM sleep. Secondly, as the alcohol metabolizes and is eliminated from the system by the second half of the night, there is a REM rebound, which indicates longer than regular REM periods. People report that these periods cause more vivid and highly emotional dreams. Higher doses of alcohol may increase sleep disturbances. If a person wishes to have a better sleep, he or she could reduce the consumption of alcohol or seek professional help with therapy to handle the emotional backlog that could occur with continued drinking.
Long-term use of alcohol before bedtime can lead to REM reduction because of tolerance. For people who have a few drinks before bedtime—by the middle of the night, due to the rapid metabolism of the alcohol—individuals can have withdrawal symptoms. When this metabolic activity occurs, it typically brings about REM rebound, which is marked by vivid dreams or nightmares and sweating.
Recovery can be hard to handle, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is an odyssey and takes dedication and commitment. People who have an alcohol dependence but decide to have alcohol detox and seek help from an alcohol rehab center may still have sleep disturbances for around 5 to 9 months of cessation. Research shows that in some cases, the effects, like REM rebound, may last for a year or longer until the sleep cycle is returned to normal levels.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body in response to decreased daylight, which is why it helps make a person fall asleep. People often take melatonin as a supplement. It helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. It reaches peak levels during the night and decreases after a person wakes up. Chronic alcohol use stunts the production of melatonin. This deficit is why sometimes people with alcohol use disorder get prescribed a dose to take—with or without reported sleep disturbances. There is still more research needed on the effects of melatonin when people suffer from poor sleep quality and duration due to self-medicating insomnia by drinking alcohol. However, of the tests that have been conducted, melatonin has shown positive results in patients with alcohol use disorder who seek recovery instead of relapse.
People with alcohol use disorder who enter an inpatient rehab or decide to walk the road to recovery are taking the appropriate first steps to end dependence on alcohol and reregulating their sleep cycles. However, during the stages of withdrawal, many people have reported experiences of “relapse dreams.” Relapse dreams are precisely what the term implies. They are a manifestation of a person’s unconscious thoughts to return to the active use of drugs or alcohol. The frequency of disturbing relapse dreams diminishes the longer a person stays in recovery.
If you or a loved one has found that alcohol is causing sleep disturbances or other issues related to alcoholism, help is available. Discover Wish Recovery. We are a luxury rehabilitation facility that believes in a holistic approach to recovery. We offer a wide variety of treatment modalities that we personalize for you. Contact us today online or by phone (844.222.8808) to receive a free, confidential consultation.
Get a free, confidential consultation