It’s heartbreaking to witness a loved one fall into the clutches of alcohol use disorder. Day by day, you notice a little piece of the wonderful person they are fading away and the alcohol taking over. Eventually, the alcohol seizes full control, and from the moment they wake, their lives are defined by their addiction. But what you may not realize is that alcohol isn’t just controlling your loved one’s waking life. It can also sink its teeth into their sleeping life, too. Science is studying the impacts of alcohol and REM sleep and what it means for overall negative health impacts.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s important to find help sooner. AspenRidge provides guidance in finding recovery for alcohol issues, before it begins to take hold in more serious aspects of life. Contact us today directly at 855-281-5588.
What Is REM Sleep?
Sleep may feel like a singular, dreamy expanse we float into each night and stumble out of each morning, but it’s actually composed of four discrete stages, each made up of either NREM sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) or REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).
When we turn the lights off, wish our co-slumberer sweet dreams, and drift off, we begin cycling through these stages in sequence. Once we complete stage 4 between 70 and 120 minutes after falling asleep, we simply begin the process again.
On average, we complete this sleep circuit between 4 and 6 times over a typical 8-hour night’s rest. The reason we naturally flow into different stages is simply that we must — each sleep stage serves a different purpose.
- NREM stages 1 and 2 are distinct from one another, but, generally speaking, they’re all about slowing things down. Your mind and body are shedding the influence of the day, and preparing themselves for rest.
- Stage 3, also known as Slow-Wave Sleep (SSW), is the final NREM phase, and it’s the deepest of all. It’s in stage 3 that most of our recovery takes place.
- At stage 4, we finally begin REM sleep and experience atonia, a temporary muscular paralysis affecting all but respiratory and ocular muscles. Our eyes begin to move rapidly behind the eyelids.
Showing a spike in brain activity, stage 4 lays the foundation for our most vivid dreams, and, as Dr. Robert Stickgold asserts in his paper, Sleep, Learning, and Memory, this phase is essential to the healthy functioning of our memory, our learning abilities, and our creativity. In the first cycle, this stage will last only 10 minutes but will increase significantly in length throughout the night.
You can think of REM sleep as the mind’s time to metabolize your experiences. For example, a musician may practice for an hour a day, and REM consolidates the physical and cerebral information learned. Without sufficient REM sleep, it would be as if they never practiced at all.
Alcohol and Sleep Problems
A lack of REM sleep will cause exhaustion and significantly impair our ability to learn and form memories — we may also experience false memories.
Furthermore, as REM occurs only in the final stage of our sleep cycles, insufficient time spent in this phase is usually indicative of sleep deprivation in general. This means that alcohol and sleep problems can be linked to many other health issues, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Greater risk of obesity
- Heart disease
Perhaps even more unsettling for those of us trying to help a loved one experiencing the pains of alcohol use disorder, this meta-study published in volume 135 of The Journal of Affective Disorders shows people are twice as likely to become depressed when sleep-deprived.
Combine the natural depressive qualities of excessive alcohol consumption with a lack of sleep, and it can be incredibly difficult for an individual to fight their dependency.
Can’t Sleep After Drinking Alcohol?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that alcohol actually aids in sleep quality. It can cause drowsiness, so many people ask “why does alcohol keep me awake in other parts of the night?” True enough, alcohol does deepen 1st stage slumber, but this reduced sleep latency (the duration between wakefulness and sleep) and extended light stage sleeping comes at a price because of the connection between alcohol and REM sleep.
A 2006 study on the effects of alcohol on polysomnographically recorded sleep, published by the ISBRA in issue 9, volume 30 of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, concluded that even in healthy subjects, a 0.1 blood alcohol level reduces early night REM density.
In other words, the prolonged stage 1 rest induced by alcohol consumption eats into subsequent REM stages of sleep, stages that are essential to recovery and memory consolidation, but this is really only scraping the surface of alcohol’s effect on REM sleep.
In their essay, Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use, Timothy Roehrs, Ph,D. and Thomas Roth, Ph,D posit that “the full REM-suppressive effect of alcohol is probably underestimated in most studies”, due to the metallization of the dosage before the subsequent, longer REM phases experienced later in sleep.
To truly assess how damaging alcohol can be to these essential phases of sleep, a second dose would need to be administered while the test subject slept, in order to spike the alcohol levels as they reached the late REM phase. As it stands, few tests of this nature have been conducted to aid our understanding of alcohol and REM sleep.
Alcohol and Sleep Disorders
Unfortunately, alcohol and sleep disorders have many connections. The lack of sleep caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to symptoms of insomnia. The feeling that someone can’t sleep after drinking alcohol exacerbate an individual’s substance dependency.
In a 2007 study published by the HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services), Treatment Options for Sleep Disturbances During Alcohol Recovery, J. Todd Arendt, Ph,D tells us that “Alcohol is used by more than one in ten individuals as a hypnotic agent to self-medicate sleep problems”.
People will drink more and more alcohol to combat their insomnia and help them drift off, unaware that it’s actually going to hinder their late-stage sleep, leaving them even more exhausted come morning.
If left untreated, this combination may increase the chance of permanent brain damage. It’s a vicious downward spiral, one that can feel impossible to escape, but with your support and our help, we can save your loved one.
The Road to Recovery and Good Night’s Sleep — Can the Effects of Alcohol on REM Sleep Be Reversed?
The good news is that recovery from alcohol abuse and AUD is absolutely possible, and after a relatively short period, healthy sleep patterns can be reestablished, helping to revitalize brain chemistry, cognitive function, and physical capacities.
Dual diagnosis is the cornerstone of our cutting-edge alcohol addiction treatment program. Instead of focusing exclusively on substance addiction, we also treat underlying mental health issues that may have caused or stem from addiction, thereby reducing the chances of relapse significantly.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be rough for both you and the person in your life shouldering addiction; no one wants to see their loved ones suffer. But here at Aspen Ridge, we’re equipped to guide a client through the rehabilitation process safely.
Our world-class therapists and counselors will collaborate with your loved one to create a recovery program that’s tailored to them, ensuring they get precisely the help they need to kick their habit and regain control of their life.
There are often clear physical signs of addiction to alcohol, but subtle signs like loss of sleep may not be as apparent. AspenRidge Recovery is a leading alcohol addiction treatment center in Colorado offering support for family members and loved ones. Our programs are tailored to each individual and can offer support at a critical time. Contact us directly to learn more about our alcohol treatment programs at 855-281-5588.