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By: Karla J. Thompson, BA, RPSGT, CCSH on January 13th, 2022

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Alcohol As a Coping Measure for Stress During COVID-19: The Impact It Has on Sleep

Alcohol and Sleep | Coping Behaviors

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, stress levels continue to rise along with the use of coping behaviors. Among those coping behaviors is the increased consumption of alcohol. As the level of consumption increases, the quality of sleep continues to decrease.

Alcohol’s Correlation to Stress

According to Grossman et al.1, alcohol consumption has increased in the United States due to increased amounts of stress, the ease of alcohol availability and overall boredom. This study also reported that participants who drank due to stress consumed more alcohol over a more significant number of days than those who drank for other reasons.  

Alcohol’s Impact on Sleep

According to Psychology Today,2 alcohol is the most common sleep aid. While it can have a sedative effect — producing feelings of relaxation and sleepiness — heavy consumption has been connected to poor sleep quality and duration.3 If the individual has sleep apnea, alcohol use can make these symptoms worse. Additionally, alcohol disrupts the circadian rhythm — sometimes shortening sleep onset and causing some individuals to fall into deeper sleep quickly. However, as they sleep, they have less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and overall, they sleep less.

Chronic alcohol abuse is linked to insomnia. According to Manarang-Obsioma,4 withdrawal from alcohol leads to frequent awakenings during the night, not being able to fall asleep, restlessness and nightmares, feeling constantly tired, anxiety when trying to sleep, and exhaustion upon wakening. Over time, poor sleep quality, combined with alcohol use, may also have detrimental effects on mental health.

Park et al.5 conducted a study about the effects of alcohol on the quality of sleep. In this study, researchers surveyed 234 men and 159 women with alcohol use disorders. The study results indicated that men who consumed more alcohol suffered from overall poor sleep quality, difficulty maintaining sleep rather than falling asleep, shorter overall sleep duration and worse subjective sleep quality. The study also linked snoring to alcohol consumption. Surprisingly, the same results were not found in the women participants. Researchers suggested the lack of correlation might be due to the smaller sample size. However, this same study did report increased levels of anxiety and depression among both the men and women participants.

It is no wonder that lack of sleep or poor sleep quality has been a common complaint during the pandemic. However, one must wonder if the poor sleep quality is the result of stress or alcohol consumption. Will higher alcohol consumption rates be the new normal or will things slowly return to pre-pandemic quantities? At any rate, it is clear that as long as the high rates of consumption continue, sleep quality will continue to be affected.

How Sleep Professionals Can Help

To help combat the sleep issues that arise from consuming alcohol before bed, sleep technologists can continue to suggest limiting alcohol intake as well as staying hydrated and eating a balanced meal before drinking. Sleep technologists can also suggest that patients sleep in a lateral position or at an incline and see a physician if they notice a marked difference in their sleep. Physicians can also make proper referrals if there is a need for counseling services to help cope with stress or other issues that may influence the desire to drink.

 

References

  1. Grossman, R., Benjamin-Neelon, S. E., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults. International journal of environmental research and public health17(24), 9189. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17249189
  2. Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Alcohol and sleep: What you need to know. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/sleep-newzzz/201801/alcohol-and-sleep-what-you-need-know.
  3. Alcohol and sleep. Sleep Foundation. (2020, September 4). Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep.
  4. Manarang-Obsioma, M. A. (2019, August 7). Insomnia and alcohol withdrawal: How to deal with sleeping problems. AlcoRehab.org. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://alcorehab.org/the-effects-of-alcohol/insomnia-and-alcohol-withdrawal/#are.
  5. Park, S. Y., Oh, M. K., Lee, B. S., Kim, H. G., Lee, W. J., Lee, J. H., Lim, J. T., & Kim, J. Y. (2015). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean journal of family medicine36(6), 294–299. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294