Why is Falling Asleep After Drinking Alcohol So Difficult?

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Why Does Alcohol Make You Sleepy?

Alcohol can make you feel sleepy because it is a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol affects the brain by affecting neurotransmitters, including GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is a neurotransmitter that dampens activity in the brain, directing the brain to slow down.

Alcohol also impacts other chemicals like adenosine, which prevents the brain from becoming stimulated. These processes produce a relaxed and tired sensation.

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Discouraged Meditations 

Here are some meditations that you should avoid after consuming alcohol: 

  • Buddhist meditation: As Buddhism forbids the use of intoxicants, you should avoid consuming alcohol prior to practicing Buddhist meditation.
  • Memory-based meditation: Memory-based meditations usually require a greater amount of concentration, which may be more difficult after consuming alcohol. 

Remedy #7: Kratom

Kratom is an evergreen tree native to certain parts of Asia, with leaves that contain a potent compound called mitragynine.

Mitragynine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it stimulates the brain’s opioid receptors – but in a much less powerful way than opiates (kratom is not an opiate).

Although I didn’t try kratom specifically as a sleep aid, I slept very well after taking Classic Red Bali from Top Extracts.

Because of kratom’s unique ability to enhance both relaxation and focus, hundreds of thousands of former opiate addicts have used kratom to get off of opiates.

A growing number of people have had success using kratom to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including insomnia.

You can learn more about kratom – and my method for preparing it as a tea – in my popular article: How To Use Kratom For Alcohol Withdrawal.

Other ways alcohol impacts your sleep

In addition to waking you up in the night, alcohol can also disrupt your natural sleep cycle.

Some people like to have a “nightcap” or a drink before bed because they find it gets them into deep sleep quicker. While this might be true, there are more negative side effects later on.

As you continue to sleep in the deep sleep stage, you will spend more time in this stage and less time in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, which is much more restful. That’s why you might feel really tired the following day, even though you were asleep for enough time.

So yes, alcohol may have helped you fall asleep faster (and maybe even sleep through the night). However, you probably had less restful sleep than normal, causing you to need tired the next day.

In short: how does alcohol disrupt sleep?

  • Makes you dehydrated
  • Increases your heart rate when you’re trying to sleep
  • Causes you to go to the bathroom more at night, waking you up
  • Increases a stress hormone that wakes you up and stimulates your body
  • Relaxes certain muscles that can cause you to snore (or make sleep apnea worse)
  • Limits the amount of REM sleep you receive in the night, making you feel less rested
  • Continually using alcohol to help you fall asleep can lead to alcohol dependance, along with the associated health risks

Are you sleeping more?

If you have changed your drinking and find yourself sleeping more, you’re not alone. There are a few reasons this might be happening.

  • You may also be a bit bored with the new time you have at your disposal. Find some new activities!
  • Don’t forget battling with the wine witch takes energy, so you may just be tired. Take time to care for yourself.
  • Dozing and cat-napping can actually be a great distraction tool if you are struggling with cravings. So having a sleep can be a win, especially because your body clearly wants it!
  • If you switch from alcohol to tea, coffee or soft drinks, you can easily get over-caffeinated, which can screw up your sleep cycle. Choose better quality and lower sugar alcohol-free drinks – you can find some great options on the Club Soda Guide.

Whatever else you do, don’t worry about your sleep. This only leads to more sleeplessness! It can take some time for your sleep cycle to sort itself out – I know it was three months for me before I really started to sleep well, so stick with it.

Alcohol and Insomnia

Insomnia is a common condition where a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Up to 40% of the general population experiences insomnia, while as many as 72% of people with an alcohol use disorder may have the condition.

In an attempt to fall asleep, some people have a drink before bed. One study shows that this is the reason about 10% of people drink alcohol. Because alcohol can have a depressive effect on the brain, drinking may help some people fall asleep faster.

However, over the long term, alcohol does not help insomnia. Tolerance to alcohol can rapidly develop. For this reason, a person may need to drink increasing amounts to fall asleep, increasing the risk of alcohol abuse and addiction. Researchers have found that insomnia is a risk factor for alcohol abuse.

Wait Between Drinking and Bedtime

It is recommended that alcohol not be consumed in the last four hours before bedtime. Even though alcohol may help you fall asleep, it interferes with the quality of your sleep.

Moreover, it can take one hour for your body to process one serving of alcohol. If you've had several drinks, it's best if your last drink is finished at least several hours before you go to bed.

What Causes Hangover Symptoms?

A number of factors can contribute to hangovers:

  • Mild dehydration: Alcohol suppresses the release of vasopressin, a hormone produced by the brain that sends signals to the kidneys causing them to retain fluid. As a result, alcohol increases urination and excess loss of fluids. The mild dehydration that results likely contributes to hangover symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, and a headache.
  • Disrupted sleep: People may fall asleep faster after drinking alcohol, but their sleep is fragmented, and they tend to wake up earlier. This contributes to fatigue, as well as lost productivity.
  • Gastrointestinal irritation: Alcohol directly irritates the lining of the stomach and increases acid release. This can lead to nausea and stomach discomfort.
  • Inflammation: Alcohol increases inflammation in the body. Inflammation contributes to the malaise that people feel when they are sick, so it may play a role in hangover symptoms as well.
  • Acetaldehyde exposure: Alcohol metabolism, primarily by the liver, creates the compound acetaldehyde, a toxic, short-lived byproduct, which contributes to inflammation in the liver, pancreas, brain, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.
  • Mini-withdrawal: While drinking, individuals may feel calmer, more relaxed, and even euphoric, but the brain quickly adjusts to those positive effects as it tries to maintain balance. As a result, when the buzz wears off, people can feel more restless and anxious than before they drank.

Because individuals are so different, it is difficult to predict how many drinks will cause a hangover. Any time people drink to intoxication, there is a chance they could have a hangover the next day.

Remedy #5: Multi-Nutrient Formulas

There are exciting new supplement blends that can be used to support alcohol recovery, including restoration of natural sleep. Take care not to choose weak herbal extracts and basic B-vitamins dressed up with fancy marketing. Ideally, the supplement blend you choose will have some of the following nutrients in it (especially the amino acids):

  • B-Vitamins – Highly depleted by alcoholism and necessary for energy and cognition
  • Vitamin C – Restores cellular health damaged by alcohol consumption
  • Magnesium – Supports relaxation, sleep, and nervous system functioning
  • Zinc – Restores the immune system and hormonal balance after alcoholism
  • 5HTP – Amino acid that helps with relaxation and sleep
  • DLPA – Amino acid that supports healthy endorphin levels
  • L-Glutamine – Amino acid that stabilizes blood sugar, increases GABA, and repairs the gut
  • Phosphatidylcholine – Natural compound that supports the liver and brain

Drawbacks Of Meditating After Drinking Alcohol

Next, let’s look at the potential drawbacks that alcohol could have on meditation. 

(Keep in mind, many of these drawbacks are likely to be derived after moderate to high consumption)

Also, just like with the benefits, the drawbacks will largely vary based on your tolerance and reaction to alcohol.

Therefore:

Make sure you take the following drawbacks with a pinch of salt.

1. It’s unsuitable for Buddhist meditation

The fifth precept prohibits the use of intoxicants.

Out of both respect and proper practice, Buddhist meditation should not be performed whilst intoxicated. 

2. It decreases motivation to meditate

Whilst relaxation from low to moderate alcohol consumption may serve as a benefit, too much alcohol can lead to lethargy and decreased motivation.

This may discourage you from completing your set meditation session, which will hinder the long-term benefits of your journey. 

3. It’s more difficult to concentrate

Whilst alcohol can release suppressed emotions and provoke new thought patterns, some people find this makes it hard to center themselves during meditation.

Whilst many thoughts and emotions may flow easily after a couple of drinks, you may find it difficult to hone in on any one particular thought. 

4. It’s easier to fall asleep

In higher doses:

Alcohol can cause fatigue and tiredness (due to the way it affects GABA receptors).

Some users have reported unexpectedly falling asleep midway through a meditation session after consuming alcohol.  

So, does alcohol ruin meditation?

In moderate to high doses, alcohol can induce lethargy and reduce concentration, which can significantly hinder the benefits of meditation. Similarly, alcohol is not suitable for Buddhist meditation, which prohibits the use of intoxicants. 

Non-Restorative Sleep

People in alcohol recovery take a long time to fall asleep, have problems sleeping through the night, and feel that their sleep is not restorative.

Lab studies show reductions in deep sleep and abnormalities in REM sleep in persons with more than a year of sobriety. REM sleep is characterized by increased brain activity, relaxation of the body, rapid eye movements, and increased dreaming.

"Sleep has a reputation among the recovering community of being one of the last things that fall back into place for an individual," says David Hodgins, professor of psychology at the University of Calgary. "It's also recognized as a potential precipitant of relapse.

Within the 12-step community, there’s a little saying that describes the risk factors for relapse; it’s called HALT. People who are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired are at an increased risk of relapse. Certainly, one way a person can be tired is through sleep disruptions.”

Are Hangovers Dangerous or Just Painful?

Hangovers can be both painful and dangerous. During a hangover, a person’s attention, decision-making, and muscle coordination can all be impaired. Also, the ability to perform important tasks, such as driving, operating machinery, or caring for others can be negatively affected.

Common Myths About Hangovers

Myth: Certain actions, such as drinking coffee or taking a shower, can prevent or cure a hangover.

Fact: The only way to completely avoid a hangover is to not drink alcohol at all or to keep alcohol intake to a minimum. There is no cure for a hangover other than time.

Myth: The order of drinks will affect a hangover—as captured in the expression, “beer before liquor, never sicker.”

Fact: In general, the more alcohol a person drinks, the worse the hangover will be. This is true regardless of whether a person drinks beer, wine, distilled spirits, or a combination of these.

Myth: Having an alcoholic drink in the morning after a night of drinking will help avoid a hangover—a practice known colloquially as “a hair of the dog that bit you.”

Fact: While this might temporarily minimize some symptoms, it could contribute to and prolong the malaise and other symptoms of the hangover.

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