‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Holiday Stress, Alcohol, and Sleep

Last Updated on November 18, 2020

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

(All except those, of course, who were up all night from holiday stress, and too much alcohol.)

Sleep is in the news a lot lately—mostly comments on how little sleep people actually get, compared to how much they really need. The fact is that most people need a good 7-9 hours. Those who try to get by on less generally pay a price in mood and performance the next day.

But during the holidays, with so much to keep track of, it’s easy to find yourself under-rested. And it turns out that alcohol—ever-present at holiday parties—can make this seasonal insomnia even worse!

Alcohol and Holiday Insomnia

Many factors can contribute to lack of sleep: anxiety about work, money, or family matters can keep the mind racing. Having a large holiday meal without sufficient time to digest, watching television without time to wind down, or other activities that increase adrenalin will discourage calm that encourages a restful slumber. And of course, caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and over-the-counter products like pseudoephedrine (e.g., Sudafed)—can negatively affect sleep.

It’s no surprise that alcohol is usually one of the worst offenders. In a comprehensive article for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), two scientists documented the effects of alcohol on the brain activities required to get quality sleep—the kind that restores you, preparing you for the next day. In their article “Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use,” Timothy Roehrs, Ph.D. and Thomas Roth, Ph.D. go into great detail about the effects of alcohol.

Recent studies have focused on sleep apnea, and the ability of alcohol to halt breathing during sleep. If that sounds slightly scary, it is.

Stages of Sleep

During the night, people go through various stages of sleep, climaxing with the deepest, the REM phase (Rapid Eye Movement), which is also the most restorative. In addition to alcohol’s effects on getting to sleep in the first place—and staying there—researchers have found that “alcohol consistently affects the proportions of the various sleep stages.” Meaning, you may not be getting the right amounts of each stage, to properly refuel your brain.

Further, while healthy people may experience a mild sedative effect from alcohol, those with insomnia may find that alcohol only increases that condition.

Meditation, quiet—and setting aside your smartphone before bed—are all good strategies. A little herbal tea or warm milk can help, too.

If you find that you’re struggling with both sleep and alcohol during the holidays, there is also convenient, online help available. Ria Health gives you access to coaches who can help you deal with cravings for alcohol, and talk with you about how to get to sleep without it. You can also access prescription medications, online support groups, digital tools, and much more. Get in touch with a member of our team today, or learn more about how it works.

Read More: Alcohol and Sleep

Further references:

National Sleep Foundation: How Alcohol Affects the Quality—And Quantity—Of Sleep

Sleep.org: Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep

How Alcohol Messes With Your Sleep—And What You Can Do About It

What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Sleep

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