Alcohol and Sleep: A ST. PATRICK’S DAY TRADITION!

Saint Patrick’s Day or the Feast of Saint Patrick is a cultural and religious celebration held on the 17th of March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland.
It is supposed to commemorate Saint Patrick, the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.
Here in Chicago, they dye the Chicago river green, and the city is alive with parades, block parties, pub crawls, the sounds of bagpipes on the streets, and crowds moving like meandering green rivers down the streets lined by skyscrapers.
Historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.

How alcohol can negatively impact your sleep:

  1. Insomnia: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and may help you fall asleep. However, when alcohol comes off your brain receptors, your brain goes into a kind of withdrawal, and you can actually wake up in the middle of the night.
  2. Insomnia increases the risk of alcohol relapse.
  3. If alcohol use progresses, tolerance to its sedative effects means that it no longer helps you fall asleep but can continue to cause the middle of the night awakenings.
  4. Alcohol relaxes the muscles and can worsen the severity of sleep apnea.
  5. Even in patients who have sustained long-term periods of sobriety, prior alcohol use increases the risk of sleep apnea and leg movements (when asleep).
  6. People with combined insomnia and alcohol dependence seem to have more depression, anxiety, hostility, and problems with concentration than others.
  7. If you are older, alcohol use may worsen sleep apnea, causing brain damage, and can in the long-term cause permanent disruptions to your sleep cycle. If your sleep rhythms are more sensitive (think seasonal, bad jet lag recovery), your sleep can be disrupted.

Thus, alcohol can contribute to insomnia and sleep disruptions in multiple ways. The negative effects of heavy alcohol use on sleep can persist several months into sobriety.

So, what can we do?!

  1. If you know you are going to be drinking a lot of alcohol or will be staying up late, try and sleep longer or take a good nap before the event. So, you have basically deposited extra sleep in your sleep bank.
  2. Ideally, you should avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Drinking a shot of liquor or one glass of wine or beer with dinner scheduled at least three to four hours before bedtime is not likely to have a negative impact on your sleep because its effects will reduce by bedtime. Some very sensitive people may have to avoid alcohol in the evening altogether.
  3. Avoid combining benzodiazepine medications (like Valium/ diazepam, Ambien/ zolpidem, clonazepam, etc.) with alcohol because it can suppress your breathing while you are asleep. In some cases, it has been fatal.
  4. Be as consistent as you can with your sleep and wake times all nights of the week. Let’s be realistic again. For weekends, you may allow 1-2 hour differences in your wake and bedtimes.

If you want to know if alcohol affects your sleep, or want to learn strategies to cut back on alcohol, drink so that it does not have a big impact on your sleep, or how to strategically nap without it disrupting your sleep cycles, set up an appointment with me, NOW!

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