The Ironic Relationship Between Boozing & Snoozing
Written by: JoAnne Pearce
Promising improved sleep during a sober challenge is a tricky piece of business, particularly a shorter challenge like 28 days. Simply put, if you cut out drinking, you will eventually get a better night's sleep. In my case, I went from thrashy sweaty sleeps with regular 4am doom panic sessions, to glorious deep, wholesome sleeps. I'm talking the kind of sleep that should have sonnets written about it. Sleeps that feel like trust falling into endless clouds of indigo marshmallows. Pure, unadulterated rest.
Going from thrashy doom sweats to indigo marshmallows, however, can sometimes take a hot minute. This is because sleep and alcohol have a complicated relationship.
If you are a daily drinker, your body will have gotten pretty used to having a nice little sedative to send it off to snoozetown every night. Brains, however, are all about balance.
To counteract alcohol’s depressant effect on your nervous system, your brain likes to throw a heavy metal party and invite a bunch of stress hormones like cortisol. You know, just to make sure you're okay. All those lovely, cozy feelings have now been counterbalanced by loud, spiky ones.
Imagine that your brain is a stage, and Gwar just crashed a jazz piano concert playing there.
This is why, once alcohol's sedative effects wear off, you tend to wake up way too early after a big night out and run through all the reasons why your life feels an unmitigated disaster zone. On top of these loud spiky feelings, you're more likely to snore, be dehydrated and make more frequent trips to the bathroom. All of these culprits interrupt REM sleep, and they are all reasons why folks tend to have fitful sleeps filled with nightmares, sweat and anxiety after they drink too much.
This is where the irony comes in: people drink to relax, which does work for a couple hours, but consuming too much booze can actually make you feel more stressed out. You pay for those hours with very heavy interest. A knotty cycle can start to occur, since folks who are feeling stressed are more likely to drink again the next day.
It’s important to know that this cycle won’t iron out immediately when you take a break from drinking, especially if you drink every day. Some folks report having trouble falling asleep when they go off the sauce, since their brains have been trained to counteract alcohol’s effects by releasing stimulating hormones at nighttime.
Think of it like a really annoying automatic lawn sprinkler that keeps coming on just when you’re trying to hang the laundry out to dry.
The good news is that if you give it some time, things will level out and you’ll find yourself enjoying the deep, uninterrupted slumber of babes. I’m talking the sleep of the dead. The sleep of angels. Sure, you might have to get up and pee once or twice because you’re so incredibly well hydrated from all the near beers and mocktails you crushed the night before, but you will fall into a natural sleep cycle so groovy that bedtime will become your new happy hour.