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Alcohol and Insomnia

Posted on July 19, 2019

Alcohol and Insomnia

Insomnia can be defined as a condition that makes it difficult for a person to fall asleep.

Besides having problems falling asleep, a person suffering from insomnia may feel lethargic or significantly fatigued after waking up.

When insomnia affects individuals who are healthy (lack physical or psychological disorders), it is known as primary insomnia.

When insomnia is caused by other conditions, drug use, or medication, it is known as secondary insomnia.

If the condition lasts for three to 7 days a week over a month, it is referred to as chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia lasts for three or fewer days a week.

To understand the relationship between alcohol and insomnia, it’s important to understand normal sleep patterns.

Sleep patterns

Normal sleep is characterized by alternating states where brain waves exhibit two different kinds of activities, namely; slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep.

Recent studies have revealed a new sleeping state known as the transitional light sleeping stage with occurs in intervals.

As the name suggests, a slow-wave sleep stage is characterized by very slow brain waves.

This sleeping state is deep and restful, representing 75% of the total sleep a person enjoys at night. The rapid eye movement stage is periodical, lasts for five to thirty minutes, and recurs after about 90 minutes.

Dreaming usually happens at this stage, and as the name suggests, the eyes have rapid movements while a person is “dead asleep”.

Alcohol: A leading risk factor of insomnia

Alcohol has been proven as a leading risk factor of insomnia in many publications, including the Epidemiology of sleep.

Besides insomnia being linked to gender, age, medical and psychological disorders, it’s also linked to drug use, and abuse – including alcohol abuse is a leading cause of insomnia.

Your chances of suffering from insomnia are higher if you are older and take alcohol. If you are a woman, your chances increase further since women are affected by insomnia more than men.

Your risks rise even higher if you have certain conditions like chronic pain, arthritis, and psychological disorders like major depressive disorder.

Quick statistics and information

  1. 20% of the adult population in America relies on alcohol to fall asleep
  2. 30-35% of the adult population in the US suffers from insomnia-related symptoms.
  3. Individuals diagnosed with sleeping disorders also suffer from substance use-related disorders (5 to 10 times) greater than individuals who don’t suffer from sleep disorders. In many cases, the substance-related disorders are linked to abuse of CNS depressants like alcohol and sleeping aids.
  4. Depression increases a person’s chances of suffering from substance use-related disorders and sleep problems. This explains why the major depressive disorder is diagnosed after considering a person’s sleeping problems like insomnia. In fact, 30% of major depressive disorder sufferers get alcohol use disorder among other substance use disorders.
  5. Individuals who have chronic back pain have elevated cases of clinical depression and substance abuse. One specific study has linked 50% of chronic back pain sufferers with insomnia compared to only 3% of individuals who don’t have chronic back pain having insomnia.
  6. Studies on the link between depression, back pain, and substance abuse have found that symptoms of substance abuse and depression precede those of back pain in 75% of samples investigated.
  7. People who become alcoholics will experience insomnia as a withdrawal symptom linked to recovery. They also tend to have sleeping problems in the long-term because of alcohol abuse.
  8. People who suffer from sleeping disorders and mental health disorders have a higher likelihood of abusing alcohol than individuals who don’t have these conditions.
  9. Insomnia is usually a complication resulting from alcohol abuse since alcohol disrupts a person’s quality of REM sleep. Also, individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse but attempt to abstain from alcohol tend to suffer from insomnia as a withdrawal symptom.

Several medical conditions, like chronic back pain, are associated with depression, which is a popular trigger for substance use disorder, particularly alcohol use disorder.

The link between substance use disorders and insomnia is clearly complicated, making it hard to determine causal relationships between sleep and alcohol abuse given the variables in play.


Alcohol-related insomnia is usually treated in a six-step process. Although treatment can vary from one alcohol rehab centre to another, here are the main treatment steps considered.

A. Assessment

The first step of treatment involves a thorough assessment of a patient. This step is composed of multiples stages, which include physical, psychological, and cognitive evaluation processes that must take place at the beginning.

As the name suggests, assessment is meant to identify the underlying problems causing insomnia as well as the unique strengths and weaknesses a patient might posses that may alter the effectiveness of treatment.

The assessment step also identifies potential substances being taken by the patient. The process helps to set a treatment approach and treatment goals with the highest likelihood of success.

B. Detoxification

In the case of alcohol-related insomnia, a specific treatment approach will be crafted.

The assessment is followed by enrolling the physician into a detox program that has a physician to manage withdrawal symptoms that may arise. Alcohol abuse is associated with serious withdrawal symptoms that must be managed via inpatient care.

Although alcoholics can still be treated in outpatient facilities, it is harder to monitor them and treat withdrawal symptoms if they still have access to alcohol.

During detoxification, alcoholics are usually given benzodiazepines to control withdrawal symptoms of alcohol.

Other medication can be used if needed. With time, the dosage of benzodiazepines is reduced slowly as a patient starts to adjust to lower doses.

Monitored detoxification allows patients to withdraw safely from alcohol without experiencing any life-threatening symptoms like seizures or developing delirium tremens.

C. Medical management

Once detox is in progress without the risk of harmful withdrawal symptoms, medical care can be administered. This step targets on the medical management of insomnia. Treatment usually goes on for as long as needed.

D. Therapy

Before treatment begins, patients suffering from alcohol-related insomnia should be enrolled in formal therapy programs for substance use disorders.

The programs usually include individual or group therapy. Patients are free to choose a suitable therapy program, although it is advisable to attend both group and individual sessions.

Therapy sessions for substance abuse disorder help addicts understand the motivations behind alcohol abuse. They also get to identify alcohol triggers, which can cause relapses.

Group therapy helps to form solid foundations for long-term recovery. Hearing from people who have the same problem and getting professional assistance in the process is critical for recovering from any addiction.

In fact, group therapy helps to create a strong social support base, you can turn to any time when you have problems abstaining from alcohol. Group therapy also offers other resources for use in difficult real-life situations.

E. Cognitive behavioural therapy treatment

This type of therapy is commonly used to treat insomnia. During treatment, patients are put on healthy sleeping schedules. CBT techniques are used to help patients relax and sleep soundly.

Some medication is also used in the process if necessary. When treating insomnia, cognitive behavioural therapy is considered a long-term approach. CBT helps patients have sound sleeping habits.

It also helps them relax, something which is critical for long-term healing.

It’s worth noting that medication is discouraged unless necessary since medication used in treating sleep problems tends to be abused.

As a result, patients should use medication under strict supervision or risk developing other drug abuse problems.

F. Social support

Anyone recovering from alcoholism must be part of social support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous when they get out of supervised treatment. Social groups are important sources of support for increasing the chances of recovery from alcoholism.

Tips for having a good night sleep

After treatment, it’s important to practice good sleeping habits. Past alcohol use may not be to blame for all sleep-related issues that affect you after treatment.

In fact, you don’t have to have a history of drug abuse to have problems falling asleep. With that said, here’s what you should consider implementing to be able to sleep soundly.

A. Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Stay away from coffee and tea hours before going to bed. You should also avoid drinking alcohol in the evening. If you must take anything in the evening, take hot herbal or milky drinks instead of alcohol or other beverages containing caffeine.

B. Have a conducive bedroom

Your bedroom should also be conducive for deep sleep. For instance, it should be free of clutter and as dark as possible. Light has been linked to sleeping problems.

C. Exercise

Exercising regularly is a perfect way to relieve daily stresses and strains of life, an important prerequisite for sleeping soundly.

D. Eat a balanced diet and avoid overeating

You should also eat balanced foods in moderate proportions. The body needs enough nutrients to stay nourished. Overeating has also been linked to poor sleeping patterns.

E. Plan accordingly

To avoid being overwhelmed by life, plan every detail accordingly. Proper planning can eliminate common stresses that are linked to sleeping problems.

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