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  • The Merge

How Alcohol Affects Your Dreams

As someone who's always been intrigued by the mysteries of dreams, I couldn't help but notice the peculiar shift in my dream patterns on nights when I indulged in a glass of wine or two. This personal observation led me down a rabbit hole of research to understand how alcohol truly affects our dreams.

affects of alcohol on dreams

Dreaming, an integral part of our sleep cycle, can be significantly influenced by various factors, including our daily activities, diet, and notably, alcohol consumption​​​​. Contrary to popular belief that alcohol aids sleep, it actually disrupts the sleep cycle, impacting both the quality and content of our dreams.

Karen Lee, MD, a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at NYU Langone treats people with sleep disorders. According to her study, “A lot of people use alcohol as a sedative or a hypnotic, but it is not effective for sleeping.”

Although some might believe that having a couple of glasses of cognac before sleep helps in dozing off, the effectiveness of alcohol in this regard is short-lived.

Alcohol's Immediate Effects on Sleep and Dreams

Initially, alcohol's sedative properties might make you drowsy, giving the illusion of a sleep aid. However, as the night progresses, this leads to restless, fragmented sleep, particularly in the latter part of the night​​.

The Science Behind Sleep Stages and Alcohol

Our sleep is divided into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM stages. REM is where most dreaming occurs. After consuming alcohol, there's a decrease in REM sleep in the early part of the night, followed by an increase later on, often leading to more vivid, sometimes disturbing dreams​​​​.

Alcohol doesn't just affect the frequency of dreams but also their nature. Studies suggest that alcohol consumption can lead to more negative or disturbing dream content​​.

At times, there is still a psychological aspect involved after a night of drinking which leads to bizarre dreams that often follow. Frequently, drinkers report haunting or evocative dreams, like a vivid encounter with a past love. “During sleep, the body is trying to gather information from its environment and make it interpretable in the mind.

For example, if your bed partner brushes up against your foot, you may dream of spiders crawling on your feet,” Dr. Lee explained. “Your body is trying to make sense of what you’re experiencing, so if you’ve become particularly emotional during a night of drinking, those thoughts and emotions can seep into the content of your dreams.”

Next-Day Dream Effects

Interestingly, it's not just the night of drinking that's affected. The following night often sees a surge in REM sleep as the body tries to compensate for the previous night's loss, leading to particularly vivid dreams​​.

Chronic Alcohol Use and Its Impact

Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to a decrease in overall REM sleep. When alcohol is reduced or withdrawn, the body may experience a significant REM rebound, leading to extremely vivid and unsettling dreams​​.

Circadian Rhythm Disruption

Alcohol also disrupts the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, further exacerbating sleep disturbances and dream patterns​​.

Addressing Alcohol-Induced Dream Alterations

To mitigate these effects, reducing or eliminating alcohol, especially before bedtime, is advisable. If sleep disturbances persist, consulting a sleep specialist is recommended​​.

While a nightcap might seem like a shortcut to dreamland, it's clear that alcohol is more of a hindrance than a help in achieving restful sleep and pleasant dreams. The intricate dance between alcohol and our sleep stages unravels a complex impact on our dream world, often leaving us with more nightmares than sweet dreams.


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