Sleep is not only affected by our habits during the night, but also by our day-to-day actions and lifestyle; we all know that consuming too much caffeine or taking naps during the day can negatively affect our sleep at night, or that experiencing feelings of stress can cause trouble falling asleep; but what about drinking alcohol or smoking? Some of us find these habits hard to resist, especially on a weekend or after a long day of hard work, but we should all be aware of the hidden dangers behind them, that put our sleep at risk. Learn how alcohol, smoking and sleep are bound together.
The Effects of Alcohol on Sleep
Alcohol is one of the most common drugs consumed around the world. It is a sedative hypnotic drug, which means it acts to depress the central nervous system at high doses. According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 20% of adult Americans consume alcohol to help them fall asleep; but the unfortunate truth is that while drinking alcohol before bedtime can actually help you fall asleep more easily, at the same time it also disrupts your sleep later in the night, leading to poor quality sleep and unrefreshed mornings.
Alcohol causes your whole body to relax, including the muscles in your throat. This relaxation causes the tissue at the back of your throat to rest in a way that blocks the airway, making you more prone to snoring and breathing difficulties during sleep.
Moreover, alcohol disrupts sleep, especially the deep sleep phase which is the most restorative part of sleep; during this phase, brain waves slow down as well as heart rate and respiration; blood pressure drops, the muscles fully relax and it is significantly harder to be awakened. Disruption of the most critical phase to physical restoration will make you feel less restful in the morning. Note that cannabis has a similar effect and therefore, even if using it is legal in your country, it is highly recommended to avoid it before bedtime.
What's between smoking and sleep?
We’re probably all familiar with the risks of smoking. If possible, avoid smoking altogether! But if resisting temptation is too difficult for you, try to limit your daily amount and avoid smoking during 3 to 4 hours before bedtime.
Nicotine can have a misleading effect on sleep, as it appears to increase snoring and can cause breathing difficulties during sleep. This effect is caused due to its stimulating influence on the muscles - including those at the back of the throat. As long as they are not fully relaxed, the airway remains unblocked. However, over the course of the night, the level of nicotine in the body diminishes and the muscles relax, leading to blockage of the airway. Additionally, it seems that a “rebound effect” on the muscles in the upper airway contributes to worsening of the snoring or breathing difficulties during the second half of the night.
Regular smoking can irritate the skin inside your nose and throat which in turn may obstruct your breathing. It also causes swelling of tissues in the nose and throat and even obstructs small vessels in the lung, all of which contribute to the blockade of your airway; quitting or at least moderating this habit may improve your sleep and have a beneficial impact on your general health.
Passive smoking should not be disregarded! If you visit a smoky bar during the evening or have a smoking partner, it could interfere with your sleep and contribute to nightly breathing difficulties and snoring.
Asking yourself how to improve sleep? Before you light your next cigarette, remember - smokers are twice as likely to snore as non-smokers. It may even be the sole cause of the snoring problem and therefore quitting could improve your sleep dramatically.
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