Alcohol is hurting our sleep, but we can fix it

By Regence
February 01, 2021
Dr. Jim Polo Regence Q13 alcohol and sleep

People are drinking more as they experience stress, anxiety and social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is causing havoc on many people’s sleep, says Dr. Jim Polo, executive medical director for Regence. 

Dr. Polo appeared on Q13 FOX in Seattle to discuss how even moderate alcohol consumption too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Drinking an hour before bedtime reduces our production of melatonin, which “is what helps us fall asleep and keeps our circadian rhythm, our sleep-wake cycle, regular."

Alcohol can also hurt sleep by relaxing neck muscles and obstructing normal breathing, as well as leading to midnight wakeups. "If you’re drinking alcohol into the evening, you’re more likely to need to use the bathroom, so waking up in the middle of the night can also become a problem," Dr. Polo said.

According to a new survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 68% of American adults lost sleep due to drinking alcohol past bedtime. And parents (78%) are more likely to lose sleep due to drinking alcohol past bedtime compared to non-parents (59%).

How to improve sleep

For some people, the sleep problems caused by alcohol lead to a vicious cycle. They consume caffeine and other stimulants during the day to offset their fatigue and irritability, and then drink alcohol again in the evening to offset the stimulants.

But there is hope. According to Dr. Polo, avoiding excessive drinking will go a long way toward improving your sleep. "I would recommend that everybody drink responsibly and in moderation."

More specifically, stop drinking 3-4 hours before bedtime. Stay hydrated by drinking water while you consume alcohol, and have a snack before you go to sleep.

Watch the full Q13 FOX segment below:

Resources to help

If your relationship with alcohol has caused you or your loved ones to be concerned, talk with your doctor or behavioral health therapist. 

Regence has created a self-care resource page to help our members take care of their emotional health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The page includes resources on how to assess your mental health, and to get help when necessary.