Alcohol and Sleep: Dependent on Alcohol to Sleep

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Many people may use alcohol to help with sleep. However, this can have the opposite effect, causing irregular REM cycles, sleep apnea, and insomnia. Unfortunately, because people’s sleep becomes irregular, this leads to more alcohol use which perpetuates the pattern of drinking and insomnia. However, sleep does not get better, but worse. This leads to increased stress and exhaustion as there may be frequent waking periods.

This pattern may even contribute to binge drinking, which increases the likelihood of insomnia. Binge drinking is defined as for men, drinking more than 5 drinks in 2 hours and more than 4 drinks for women in 2 hours. Using alcohol to sleep is common among people with alcohol use disorder.  Research indicates that binge drinking is associated with insomnia in older adults.

So what should someone do when they have trouble managing sleep and alcohol use? Let’s learn more about alcohol and sleep and how to break the cycle of relying on alcohol to get a good night’s rest.

Are you struggling to manage your alcohol use and having trouble sleeping at night? Please reach out to Guardian Recovery. Our goal is to treat all aspects of health, not just addiction-but, emotional, physical, mental, social, and spiritual components in a person’s life. When you call, you can speak with a Treatment Advisor to help answer any questions and create a comprehensive and individualized program to address your needs. You don’t have to wait for your physical health to decline before prioritizing your health. Please contact us today.

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The Human Sleep Cycles

Sleep is an essential function of health. It is still unknown why we need consistent sleep, but it is believed to help remove toxins from the brain and strengthen neurological functioning. Research has shown that chronic sleep disturbance can increase disease risks, including high blood pressure, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.

To fully understand the essential components of sleep, one must learn REM and non-REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement. Each stage is linked to specific brain waves and neural activity. REM comprises the most active period during the sleep cycle, and you may cycle in and out of REM a few times throughout the night. Dreams occur during the REM sleep cycle.

Stage 1

Non-REM sleep occurs during this stage. It consists of a transition between awake to sleep. It lasts for minutes and is a relatively light stage of sleep. Brainwaves slow, and all parts of the body start to relax and deepen.

Stage 2

Non-REM sleep continues during this stage. This is a period of light sleep before one enters a deeper sleep. Heart rate and breathing slow, and muscles relax even more. Body temperature drops, and eye movements stop. Brain waves slow, but there are bursts of electrical activity. Most of the repeated cycles are spent in Stage 2 during the night.

Stage 3

Non-REM sleep continues. This is the stage you need to feel refreshed in the morning. Brainwaves become slower, and muscles and breathing are the most relaxed during the entire sleep cycle. This stage will last for the first half of the night.

Stage 4

REM sleep finally occurs in this stage. This stage occurs 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Your eyes will move fast from side to side. Breathing and heart rate increase to almost awakening, and there is a mixed electrical activity with brain waves. Dreaming occurs during this stage, and it is believed that memory consolidation occurs in this stage as well as non-REM.

Why Does Alcohol Make You Sleepy?

Alcohol makes people tired because it impairs the central nervous system through the GABA neurotransmitter. The central nervous system is responsible for balance, coordination, thinking, and alertness. Additionally, alcohol increases a chemical called adenosine which causes a person to feel sleepy.

Can’t Sleep Without Alcohol? Issues With Drinking To Fall Asleep

Alcohol has been known to impact a person’s health over time. It also impairs sleep as it can contribute to disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia. Approximately 2-4% of Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. It has been found that excessive alcohol use can lead to sleep apnea as alcohol not only increases snoring but narrows the air passageway leading to apnea. Alcohol, sleep apnea, and snoring increase a person’s risk for stroke, heart attack, or sudden death.

Alcohol and Insomnia

Alcohol and insomnia are frequently linked. It is estimated that 36-91% of people with alcohol dependence also have insomnia. So how does alcohol cause insomnia? Alcohol increases the quantity of non-REM sleep during the night’s first half but then decreases REM sleep in the second half. When alcohol is metabolized in the body, it often causes frequent wakings and fragmented sleep.

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Does Stopping Alcohol Consumption Cause Insomnia

Unfortunately, sleep disturbances are prevalent for people in the very beginning stages of alcohol treatment and can last for many months after alcohol consumption has stopped. In a study, 58% of a sample of 40 alcoholic men during the first 6 days of alcohol withdrawal. Three-quarters of 82 inpatients reported sleep disturbances after detoxification, and one-third of 294 patients reported sleep disturbance within the first month of treatment.

Insomnia After Binge Drinking

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 26.2% of patients had two binge drinking days per week, and 3.1% had more than two days of binge drinking per week. It was determined that people who binge more than two days per week had 84% greater odds of developing sleep insomnia versus those who did not binge drink.

How to Fall Asleep Without Drinking Alcohol

Struggling to sleep without the use of alcohol is one of the many reasons why relapse can occur in the beginning stages of treatment. How can a person fall asleep without drinking alcohol? Following good sleep habits, finding personal relaxation methods, getting exercise, and learning how to sleep without substitutions can be the first step in improving sleep and breaking the cycle of dependence.

Good Sleeping Habits

According to the CDC, here are some sleep habits to help people improve sleep.

Good Sleep Habits:

  • Be consistent with the time you go to sleep and wake up.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable temperature.
  • Remove electronic devices from the bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.
  • Get some exercise.

Personal Relaxation Methods

Here are some ways to help improve relaxation, improve sleep and reduce anxiety or worries keeping you up at night.

Relaxation Methods:

  • Breathing exercises.
  • Visualization exercises.
  • Meditation.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Hypnosis.
  • Biofeedback.

No Substitutions

It is recommended that a person abstaining from alcohol use try not to substitute other medications for sleep. This is because a person can become addicted to the new substance instead of working through strategies to improve sleep alone. If one must use medication, please consult your doctor to help identify a plan for reducing the dependence on sleep medication.

Alcohol’s Lasting Effects on Sleep

For some people, stopping alcohol use may not be the only answer for improving sleep and working through insomnia or other sleep-related disorders. However, this does not mean that the only way you can fall asleep is through alcohol. If you are struggling with sleep after you have begun treatment for alcohol use disorder, please seek guidance from your doctor or treatment team to request a guided plan for quality sleep.

Treating Co-Occurring Insomnia and Alcohol Addiction

It is essential that when you begin your alcohol recovery that, your treatment team looks at all aspects of your health. This requires physical, emotional, and medical assistance. Guardian Recovery is highly specialized in the area of addiction. Our team is dedicated to creating a customized plan to treat addiction and successfully improve all areas of wellness. Our goal is to build a solid foundation for recovery by taking a holistic approach toward health.

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If you are concerned about your physical health and alcohol use, please contact Guardian Recovery. Deciding to begin alcohol use treatment can feel scary and overwhelming, but you don’t have to do this alone.  It is important that you have a skilled and experienced team to guide you through this process. Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation benefit check and begin your journey in recovery.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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