Can’t Sleep Without Alcohol

One of the fears holding people back from given up alcohol is the belief that they can’t sleep without alcohol. They believe their nightly drink is needed to help them fall asleep.

When they do try to quit alcohol and struggle to get to sleep their belief is confirmed.  They are even more convinced they need that drink to get to sleep and subsequently start drinking again.

However, this is a myth. Alcohol does not help you sleep and I am going to explain why.

Why is Sleep Important?

Sleep is very important to your wellbeing and a lack of sleep will affect your concentration, mood and physical strength. A lack of sleep can leave you feeling tired and very irritable.

When you sleep your body gets the chance to physically repair its self and your mind is able to digest the experiences of your day. This is why you often feel better about a situation after a good night’s sleep.

I am very mindful not to stew on a problem or worry about a situation after 9pm. Making a note of what I need to tackle so I can address it the next morning definitely helps, get it out of my head. I am always 100% more positive and less daunted by a problem after a good night’s sleep.

While you sleep you go through a cycle of Deep sleep and REM sleep. Deep sleep is essential for rest and recuperation. It is the time your body physically repairs itself.  REM sleep, meaning Rapid Eye Movement is not as restful but equally important as it is essential for making or retaining memories and for learning. It is the time your mind sorts out the experiences of your day. We know the function of sleep and why it is so important but why does alcohol not help with this? I know in my drinking days I had no problem falling asleep after a few chardonnays.

Why Doesn’t Alcohol Help Me Sleep?

Despite alcohol aiding the onset of sleep, it does not allow you to have a fitful sleep; quite the opposite.

Alcohol is an artificial depressant. When you drink alcohol, it messes with your brains natural chemical balance. Your brain is a marvellous thing. It carefully monitors your brain chemicals and makes many minor adjustments to find balance.

To counteract the levels of depressant which drinking alcohol has caused, your brain will seek to balance this by introducing Stimulants and Stress Hormones into your system.

Unfortunately, once your body has finished processing all the alcohol out of your system, you are left with high levels of Stimulant and Stress Hormones coursing through your body. The effects of this will leave you feeling jittery and anxious. Moreover, it can take up to 5 hours to reduce back to normal levels.

If you have your wine, beer or whiskey before bed, the artificial depressant may help you initially slip into a Deep sleep, but unfortunately it will keep you there for several hours. This will inhibit you cycling through to REM sleep. We know REM sleep is important for memory and learning. Regularly skipping this stage means your mind is unable to rest and learn as it needs to.

Once the depressant wears off you are left with the stimulant and stress hormones which, if you’re anything like me, wakes you up leaving you restless and unable to fall back into a fitful sleep.

I often hear people talk about regularly waking at 3am feeling anxious, stressed and unable to sleep for hours. I was one of those people. Despite falling into a dead slumber every night after my wine, I always woke around 3am feeling dreadful. Hangover aside, I would feel overwhelmed with, low self-worth, anxiety and sadness. I would lie there for hours in the dark willing sleep to come. When morning arrived, I would feel exhausted.

How Do I Fall Asleep Without Alcohol?

We know alcohol may initially help you fall into a deep sleep. But, it is not helping you achieve the fitful healthy sleep your body and mind needs.

Just think, however long you have been drinking for, is how long you haven’t been sleeping properly. Wow, this means you are suffering from daily fatigue without even realising it, as it has become your new normal. No wonder you crave that drink to get you to sleep. But as I have shown, it is the alcohol which is prohibiting you from having a good night’s sleep.

Please don’t fear giving up the drink; it hasn’t been helping you sleep anyway. In fact, it is the reason you wake up tired every morning. It is the reason your body has forgotten how to fall asleep naturally.  

Your body is amazing and as you near bedtime your brain starts to slow down your neurotransmitters. That’s the messengers in your brain. Your brain identifies that it is getting dark and it triggers the release of the chemical Melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical that makes you feel sleepy and ready for bed. This is your body’s way of falling asleep naturally.

Unfortunately, if you have been regularly drinking it cannot do this for you. Sadly, your brain has come to rely on the daily alcohol instead. Again, this is why so many people believe they need alcohol to sleep but they are wrong.

Any amount of alcohol will affect your sleep but the good news is, it only takes your body a few days maybe up to a couple of weeks without alcohol to learn how to fall asleep again without it.

This might not be a long time but boy it can feel it when you are tired, irritable and newly sober.

But don’t despair. Stick with it. Going alcohol free is the answer to a good night’s sleep. You just need to give your body and mind some time to heal.

There may be temporary side effect while your body and mind are healing. You may experience, temporary insomnia, night sweats, bad dreams or frequent awakening. Nevertheless, don’t use that as an excuse to start drinking again. You will undo all your progress and hard work.

If you can persevere for 3 – 7 nights you will give your body and mind the time to re-learn how to fall asleep without alcohol.  

After only a few weeks without alcohol interrupting your sleep cycles, and causing your brain to flood with stimulant and stress hormones, you will be rewarded with best nights’ sleep since you were a kid.

In time, you will wake up feeling refreshed and with plenty of energy for your day ahead.

If you are still at war with yourself about stopping drinking Check out my article Cognitive Dissonance where I explain why you might be sabotaging your own sobriety.

Mrs Mac

Photo by Matthew Henry on

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