How to sleep: The drink triggering nightmares and severe breathing issues – expert advice

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Sleep disturbances are believed to affect one in every three people in the UK, with many turning to medicinal aids to induce relaxation. But mounting research highlights the detriments of excessive drinking for our sleep, suggesting it could be at the root of various disturbances. According to Martin Preston Founder and Chief Executive at Delamere, alcohol consumption may be behind two sleep conditions, that are known to lead to “chronic” problems.

“Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits,” explains the NHS.

There are a number of habits that can affect insomnia, and the adverse effects of drinking alcohol are well-established in relation to sleep.

According to Mr Preston, evidence around drinking can be misleading, with many turning to it to initiate sleep.

“Alcohol is commonly used as a sleep aid and will undoubtedly help you drift off, as it causes brain activity to slow down, which can induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness,” he noted.

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“But consuming alcohol in excess can affect the quality of your sleep and cause negative effects, from headaches and dehydration to increased need to urinate and overheating.”


The sleep cycle can be broken down into four different phases, the last of which is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

The cycle will repeat itself several times throughout the night, with each successive REM stage increasing in duration and depth of sleep, according to VeryWell Health.

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When alcohol enters the system, however, it causes considerable disruptions to each cycle, interfering predominantly with REM sleep.

Because REM is the stage when vivid dreaming and nightmares occur, alcohol has a tendency to trigger both good and bad dreams.

“With alcohol flowing through your system, you are more susceptible to nightmares and vivid dreams,” explains Mr Preston.

“When your blood alcohol level drops, sleep becomes shortens, and your experience more dream recall and REM sleep.”


According to the NHS, sleep apnoea is when breathing stops and starts while you sleep, which causes loud snoring.

The condition, caused mainly by excess weight and obesity, can lead to high blood pressure and heart troubles if left untreated.

But Mr Preston explained that excessive alcohol consumption may also be a significant contributing factor.

“Consumption of alcohol can cause irregular breathing and is formally known as sleep apnea, a disorder characterised by abnormal breathing and loss of breath during sleep,” he explained.

“Sleep apnea is caused by the throat muscles relaxing, which creates more resistance when breathing.

“Alcohol can increase the likelihood of snoring, as it relaxes the muscles in the body, which means the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose, will stop air flowing smoothly which will cause a vibration.”

The short and long-term risks of alcohol intake are well established, but complications can generally be avoided by limiting alcohol intake to sensible amounts.

“If you drink as much as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread this evenly over three or more days,” explains the NHS.

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