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Alcohol and sleep (or lack thereof!)

We had some good past discussions on this forum about alcohol and mental health, mood and - a bit - about its effect on sleep. However, the connection between consuming alcohol and having a good night’s sleep is becoming a bit of an issue in our house, so I thought I’d post this to see if there are any suggestions, tips and experiences around this issue people are willing to share.

My other half is going nuts at the moment. On evenings when we drink (that’s 4 out of 7 nights) his sleep is pretty much ruined. He falls asleep no problems, but then wakes up around 2-3am (probably when the alcohol had been processed), and won’t fall asleep again until 7 or 8am, when it’s really time to get up. It’s starting to significantly effect his mood and anxiety levels - which is very unlike him.

It seems to have become worse in the past year; he’s always been a light-ish sleeper, but this feels a totally different experience. Unfortunately for him, I sleep like a log (although alcohol definitely lowers the quality of my sleep too), so unless he wakes me up - he feels really alone with it, which sort of makes it worse.

Any suggestions? anyone has been struggling with something similar and found a solution? We’re considering trying not to drink Sun-Thu next week, and see if there’s a qualitative difference, but I’m trying to think more long term here, too…

Thanks in andvance for any insight… :slightly_smiling_face:

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Alcohol seems to affect my sleep similarly (although not completely consistently).

Unfortunately, I don’t have any especially useful suggestions beyond: drinking less often, drinking less when drinking, and trying to stop drinking earlier.

This is probably highly not-recommended, and I have not done this deliberately, but I have found that certain hay fever tablets have completely knocked me out even when drinking.

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Insomnia is horrid. It’s no wonder sleep deprivation is used as torture. Getting anxious about it is going to make it worse.

I’d suggest that there might be two things going on:
-drinking is affecting his sleep, making it light and disturbed rather than deep, causing him to wake up. And then the stress/anxiety makes it difficult to go back to sleep.
-drinking is causing his anxiety directly, as alcohol can be a depressant.

I’d suggest a period of dryness, just to see how it goes. And perhaps lunchtime rather than evening drinking.

(p.s. I’m not medically qualified, but I’ve seen this work for other people)

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Is anything else going on in his life that may be contributing to this episodic sleep deprivation? I am not a medic and can only think along, drawing on my own experiences. It sounds like the benefits of imbibing are definitely being outweighed by the disbenefits presently so I would be looking to change and experiment. Sleep deprivation is the pits it really is. A period of abstinence for a while, drinking on fewer nights (ie avoid school nights entirely), drink lower strength wines, or less.

I would be tempted to go dry for a week or two and experiment as above and see what impacts there are. I have circa 3 dry evenings and sleep well on those nights. I pyramid up and down my consumption so have the least on the first night following dry evenings (say a Thursday). Have what I fancy on a Friday and Sat and little on a Sunday. Mon to Wed usually nothing. It works for me. Good luck!

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Big caveat- on no account take my advice about anything.:grin:

There is a lot of stuff around about sleep hygiene, NHS website would be a place to start. I very much relate to that sense of being on your own with it. I found it helpful to accept that I was awake and leave the bed and bedroom, go downstairs and have a quiet read of something restful, no screens allowed. Read for half an hour, or until you are sleepy tired and try again. I found it really hard because I felt I had to lie quiet in order to not wake my partner and eventually started sleeping on my own.

I wonder if the alcohol, although not helping may be exacerbating anything underlying. I was thinking of some of the life stresses and changes that have been around for your family lately. He has my sympathy, it’s awful.

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I’ve had a similar thing going on – been a bad sleeper for 10 years now but sleep recently absolutely wrecked. I’ve tried reducing alcohol consumption too, having three or four zero-unit days per week, but it’s had no noticeable impact. One option could be to go full abstention for a month (yikes!) and see if that does anything, but the thing that is playing on my mind a bit is that the deterioration coincided with getting Covid in March. I’ve never felt 100% since and it’s difficult to disentangle what’s sleep deprivation, what might be some sort of post-Covid affect and whether the two could be related.

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My other bit of advice, which might be stating the obvious, is that I try not to drink if I’m tired to begin with. I find that one or two nights’ bad sleep is usually fine for me, but it’s when they start piling up that I really struggle.

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In terms of tips, I don’t have any silver bullets. But I would say that I feel a little better getting up at 5am and going to bed earlier than usual than I do going back to sleep at 7 or 8am – because you’re still not rested if you sleep later and you have the added disadvantage of starting the day ‘behind’. WFH does really help. I genuinely don’t know how I’d cope if I was commuting.

Your partner probably already knows some of the common sleep hygiene tips: Cool, dark room; go to bed and get up at the same time each day; don’t eat big meals late; use bed for sleep but not for screentime; ditch the screens a couple of hours before bed; wind down beforehand with something gentle and non-stimulating.

There was also a Michael Mosley programme a while ago, suggesting that pre-biotics (if I remember) could improve sleep quality – something to do with a connection between gut health and sleep. Worked for him, apparently. Might still be on iplayer or BBC website?

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Sounds rubbish, sorry to hear this. From your description it sounds as though this is tied to sleep cycles - he is getting the first sleep cycle ok, but then waking up (which many of us do in the middle of the night) but then struggling to get back to sleep for the second cycle.

I sometimes find this after drinking and eating rich food as well - I just find I am hotter and more sensitive to being too hot, especially at night. (Someone with a medical background may correct me, but I think of this as your body ‘burning off’ some of the ingested food and alcohol). And at this time of year the early light can affect you, even when you eyes are shut.

So one thing to consider: staying cool. This may be opening windows, or even just having thinner bed cover. At this time of year we often just sleep with a duvet cover, no duvet in it. Or maybe just a sheet. Duvet at the bottom of the bed and pull it up if we are cold. Better that way round than finding you are too hot at 2am.

Then light protection - blackout curtains, blinds etc. Sensitivity to this may vary, but I find this makes a huge difference personally.

Last thing would be to try not to worry about it too much - the worst thing is getting stuck in a cycle of being awake because you are worried you aren’t getting to sleep. Plenty of good options out there for mindfulness in this situation - counting sheep and various equivalents…

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Without a doubt as one ages the effects of alcohol seem to become more apparent. The much heard phrase ‘I can’t drink like I used to’ is prevalent amongst our social circle.
Our monthly local wine society meetings now commence at 7pm and not 8pm and we taste only five bottles. where it is agreed, we meet even earlier if it suits everyone.
As for social lunches or dinners, we hardly ever hold an evening dinner party these days, preferring a Sunday lunch to all other events.
I have had heart surgery and will be on medication for the rest of my days. Overdoing the alcohol (which I try not to do) definitely has an effect on my sleep/heart rate/BP until the processing is largely over.
So, moderation, drinking earlier and at least two days together without alcohol is now our mantra. Boring though it is!

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I am, and have always been, a very light sleeper. And I don’t believe my small amount of alcohol intake has much impact on that. I am currently suffering very badly from lack of sleep but that is because my normal mega light sleeping combined with the on going rehab on my bust shoulder means that for the last two months I’ve rarely had more than a 2 hour block of sleep. Ho hum. But I normally expect to wake up a couple of times during the night anyway.

A couple of things that work for me:

  1. Light - I cannot sleep when the room is light. A bit of a problem living north of Inverness at this time of year. So I have blackout blinds on both the bedroom windows.
  2. When I wake up sometimes I struggle to get back to sleep. I find then that the best thing for me is to focus on something interesting enough to think about but not so interesting that it keeps me awake. The best thing I have found for me is to plan/structure books that I will never write. I’m no writer and never will be but I quite enjoy the thought process but usually nod off fairly quickly!
  3. I’m single (and very happy that way) but in the past when I have had a partner sharing my bed my sleep suffers severely. I was with one partner for ten years so it’s not down to unfamiliarity, probably just my light sleeping again.
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I’ll second @AnaGramWords comment about drinking less as I get older. In terms of sleep, I have struggled for years. I usually fall asleep ok then wake up about 3am. Sometimes I can fall asleep again and sometimes I can not. I am always disappointed that alcohol free periods bring little if any improvement. Like you Inbar we have three alcohol free days a week anyway.

The only case where alcohol impacts my sleep is if I overdo it (the alcohol, not the sleep!) which happens less and less as I get older.

What I do make sure of is that water is consumed along with the alcohol. Drinking loads of water afterwards doesn’t work for me, I have to try to drink the water as I go along, especially if I am going to drink a bit more than I know I should.

I can also struggle to get to sleep in the first place and my tried and tested solution is Radio 4/world service burbling away gently in my ear. It is the talking that helps, music is too distracting for me. I recently upgraded from an ear pod to a Robert’s Pillow Talk speaker. Programme the radio to switch off after 1.5 hours and most nights I am asleep by then. It also helps if/when I wake up in the small hours.

Hope some of that is of relevance Inbar.

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a (recently almost retired) GP writes…

yes this is an established metabolic / pharmacological phenomenon of alcohol - a delayed reactive stimulative effect about 4 hours later. Alcohol is not a good choice as a sedative / hypnotic

I also read recently that the optimal sleep period for the promotion of good health - and avoiding the dreaded Alzheimers is top pick for this - has a U shaped curve - too little or too much. I think the money is on a 6-7 hour period as that sweet spot.

But even more fascinating is that the ill-effects of alcohol are very significantly affected by % body fat. The higher it is the worse the effect on your liver, brain and carcinogenesis; and it’s not so simple as how many units are safe. If you’re skinny you are in a good place on this.

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Lots of sensible advice about sleep hygiene and alcohol moderation above, so with a similarly puritanical and “do as I say not as I do” sentiment, I would also add exercise into this virginal cocktail.

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I’m the same, I have a few alcohol free days a week and on other nights if I just have a few glasses of wine I sleep absolutely fine but if it’s a heavy drinking night I wake up at 2/3 am and that’s it. I don’t think it’s anything underlying with life as I’ve always been this way although it’s gotten worse as I’ve got older. I agree with MattHo’s comment about keeping cool, unless it’s very cold I’ll swap the duvet for a thinner one if I know I’ll be drinking a lot. I try and keep it to Friday’s or Saturdays too even if I’m wide awake at 7am I can doze a bit later on in the day and then get to bed early the next night.

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Dihydromyricetin

I suffer from exactly the same thing as your husband. From what I can gather it’s due to a glutamine rebound. After reading a lot and trying a few different things I came across DHM as a solution. I tried it and it changed my life (not an exaggeration because I know how your husband feels).

I buy it from here:

I’m not a scientist and I can’t verify its safety etc so please do your own research but I find it extremely effective. One tablet after each drink and I sleep soundly. No more waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep.

It’s genuinely like a magic potion!

The other thing I’ve found useful is stopping drinking earlier. I tend to drink from 6-8.30ish now and then stop. 9pm on weekends maybe!! Also drink some water alongside your wine.

I’d also agree with some of the comments above regarding lower alcohol wines - 14% ABV is my max now. I break that rule sometimes but then try to drink less if I do.

Also agree regarding hayfever tablets helping sleep but the dihydromyricetin is really the only thing I’ve found that genuinely helps with the problem you’ve mentioned.

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Sorry to hear of your other half’s difficulties - it’s certainly a frustrating situation. To all the other good advice it’s worth considering the diruetic effect of alcohol combined with wanting to stay hydrated and perhaps issues affecting men and their prostate; worth ruling this out? From experience, I know I can be kept awake with a subtle need to visit the bathroom on some nights. Also, sleep patterns have often included a mid-night wakefulness period separating two sleeps.

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And BTW @Inbar the one thing I would absolutely recommend against, as a fellow troubled sleeper, is going to the GP and getting into a conversation about sleeping pills. In anything more than the very short term, things like zopiclone end up inhibiting rather than aiding your ability to sleep. Even in the very short term, my experience was of non-restful sleep and waking up feeling, and staying, fatigued.

One thing I don’t think anyone above has mentioned is melatonin – easily available in US pharmacies and, presumably, online. Never did a massive amount for me but some people I know swear by it. Could be worth a shot in combination with other lifestyle tweaks.

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I would like to chip in here that GPs are fully aware of the poison that is zopiclone and only prescribe under severe pressure from the patient who would dismiss very serious warnings about addiction and so on.

Personally, when I am desperate; and this is rare, I take Donormyl (doxylamine) a sedative antihistamine available over the counter widely in France. Works well, non addictive and no hangover.

Do not touch Zopiclone with even with a barge pole.

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Sounds just like me, though in my case it’s more than just alcohol that seems to cause it. If I eat too late, or have too much caffeine (a coffee late in the afternoon, for example). Sometimes it just happens anyway. Either my mind is racing or my senses seem heightened and I’m aware of every heartbeat and breath.

About once a week I’ll need to get up and go lie in the spare room on my own, until I eventually get over. This really helps, as it’s quieter and I’m less concous about tossing and turning and disturbing my partner. Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast or a meditation/mindfulness episode, which also helps.

But the real secret to a good night’s sleep, I find, is exercise. Does your husband do any? On days where I go for a run (up to 5km, nothing crazy), I’ll generally have a great sleep. A good session at the gym, or a swim brings a good sleep.

So, before you tuck into a nice bottle of wine, perhaps it’s best to make sure you’ve been plenty active during the day and your body is ready to relax.

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