The truth about alcohol and sleep, with Maryanne Taylor

bigdrinkrethink maryanne taylor mentalhealth night cap sleep world sleep day Mar 24, 2024

Believing that alcohol aids sleep, couldn't be further from the truth 

Discovering a natural night’s rest

As the host of The Big Drink Rethink podcast, I’m always hunting down fresh perspectives on alcohol's role in our lives, and I was recently very excited to record an episode with Sleep Consultant, Maryanne Taylor. She joined me to debunk myths around alcohol as a sleep aid and to provide empowering strategies to improve sleep naturally. Throughout our discussion, she shared invaluable knowledge on the dynamics of sleep cycles, the impact of alcohol on rest, and ideas on how to reclaim a restful night without relying on substances and ‘night caps’.

Understanding sleep cycles

Sleep is an intricate process with several stages, including non-REM and REM sleep. It's fascinating to consider how our bodies transition through these stages, experiencing partial awakenings that we are scarcely aware of. As Maryanne Taylor emphasises, every individual's "perfect" night's sleep is unique, and it's structured by roughly 45-minute cycles that change in character as the night progresses.

The disruption of alcohol on sleep

One of the most compelling insights Maryanne shared was about the misconception that alcohol aids sleep. Although it may initially act as a sedative, alcohol ultimately truly disrupts the normal sleep cycle. This leads to a night of fragmented sleep and reduced REM sleep, which is crucial for feeling restored. What many of us are completely unaware of, is that even a small amount of alcohol can significantly diminish sleep quality by 10-40%.

Stop with the ‘labels’

Maryanne challenged the fatalistic attitude tagged to the label of  "insomniac", in the same way that I challenge labels such as "alcoholic". These labels can lead individuals to feel as though their situation is unchangeable and a ‘done deal’, which is incredibly disempowering and far from the truth. Maryanne encourages everyone to assess their relationship with such identities critically and focus on ‘better’, as opposed to ‘perfection’.

The power of evening routines

The episode also shed light on the importance of unwinding gently before bed. Maryanne suggests journaling as a powerful tool to quiet the mind, rather than turning to alcohol. She also discusses how dealing with (i.e. processing) catastrophising thoughts at night can help mitigate nighttime anxiety and alter our perspective for the next day.

Embracing patience and self-care

An essential takeaway from our conversation was the necessity of patience and self-care. Maryanne pointed out that it can take 2 - 3 weeks for sleep patterns to become more natural once alcohol is removed from the equation. Holding strong and giving the body time to adjust is key to seeing improvements in the quality of sleep.

Here’s to better sleep, better health, and a better understanding of how we can take back control from the bottle and reclaim our nights for restful, and natural sleep.

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