How does alcohol affect our mental health?
Many of us will enjoy a nightcap to help relax, or even to forget about the stress of the day, but do we truly understand the effect this behaviour is having on our sleep quality and, subsequently, our mental health?
The research documented in the book, 'Why We Sleep; The new science of sleep and dreams' by Matthew Walker, explains why we should avoid this alcoholic nightcap, or even the mid-afternoon drink, to enable us to get the correct amount of sleep.
Below I explain why this is important in helping us process what has happened during the day; and enabling us to not only memorise and learn but to also dissolve any painful emotions.
How avoiding alcohol can help you sleep
Alcohol is a sedative
Alcohol is in a class of drugs called sedatives. It binds to receptors within the brain that prevent neurons from firing their electrical impulses. The electrical brainwave state you enter after drinking alcohol is not that of natural sleep; rather, it is akin to a light form of anaesthesia.
Alcohol fragments sleep, littering the night with brief awakenings
Alcohol-infused sleep is therefore not continuous and, as a result, not restorative. Unfortunately, most of these nighttime awakenings go unnoticed by the sleeper. Individuals, therefore, fail to link alcohol consumption the night before with the feelings of next-day exhaustion.
Selective removal of REM sleep
Alcohol is one of the most powerful suppressors of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that we know of. When the body metabolises alcohol, it produces byproduct chemicals called aldehydes and ketones. The aldehydes, in particular, will block the brain's ability to generate REM sleep. People consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol in the afternoon and/or evening are depriving themselves of dream sleep.
Importance of REM sleep
REM sleep dreaming serves two important roles; one, to help memorise important information from the day, and two, to dissolve any painful emotional charges around those memories.
Consequences of no REM sleep
Going for long periods without dream sleep (whether alcohol, drug, or environmentally induced) produces a huge buildup of pressure to obtain REM sleep, so great that it inflicts a frightening consequence upon these individuals with aggressive intrusions of dreaming while they are wide awake.
If you were to think about a time that caused you distress and still to this day causes you a form of distress on any level, you may find that during the period of the initial sensitising event (the time the memory was created) and the days that followed, you either had very little sleep or were consuming alcohol in the evening to help you 'switch off' from the unwanted thoughts and feelings that you were experiencing.
This is a common practice in the emergency service sector, due to the nature of the things that they experience during a shift.
Many clients that present with any or all of the following feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and PTSD usually have an initial event that has created this fear within their unconscious mind, but one that has not been processed correctly at the time, especially during their sleep during the following nights.
The use of hypnotherapy in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and PTSD is extremely effective as it allows the therapist to communicate with the unconscious mind and remove any emotional charges from memories that may have been created many years before the unwanted feelings began to show.
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