THE SLEEP CHRONICLE – From zoom cocktail parties, to virtual vino and beer bash events, it seems that alcohol consumption has survived the pandemic. In fact, it’s up considerably and continues to climb.
Toilet paper and a six-pack were among the most common items in grocery express lanes across America at the start of the pandemic, and are among items that continue to fly off shelves. Alcohol sales alone were up 54 percent over last year, according to Nielsen data.
Upward trends continued as online alcohol sales jumped nearly 500 percent in late April as many Americans sheltered in place, according to a Morning Consult poll.
The fall and winter months are not expected to decrease consumption rates, particularly if COVID-19 rates spike.
Numerous industry groups expect the numbers to continue to trend upwards, as back-to-school worries, unemployment, and other stressors have an even greater impact on America’s households.
It seems Americans looking to escape our “new normal” are getting boozy.
For some, it’s a sleep aid. Prior to COVID-19, about 20 percent of Americans used alcohol to help them fall asleep.
That’s a mistake, according to sleep experts at SleepFoundation.org who warn that although alcohol will make you drowsy, it is a depressant that ultimately will contribute to poor quality sleep later.
Drinking alcohol before bed creates a perfect storm of sorts by slowing delta activity, the slow-wave sleep patterns that support our memory formation and learning while elevating our Alpha activity, which isn’t typical during sleep.
It also activates the production of adenosine, a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain. Mixed with alcohol, our brain’s “traffic cops” get mixed-up and drop adenosine levels more quickly than they should, making us wake up before we’re truly rested.
It also causes more snoring due to alcohol’s tendency to relax airway passages and disturbs REM sleep, which drives our best sleep.
The propensity to turn to alcohol to relieve everyday stress is not new, according to Psychiatrist Dr. Adriane dela Cruz, who says the pandemic has only served to amp-up stress and consumption patterns.
There are tricks to dial down stress levels, however. Health experts recommend that individuals:
Alcohol and over-the-counter medications are among the most common, according to numerous industry experts.
One alternative, CBD, a naturally occurring plant-based compound is growing in popularity, according to the Brightfield Group, which reports that 53 percent of CBD consumers report using CBD to address anxiety during the pandemic. Another 25 percent of users are taking CBD to address insomnia according to the same study.
Multiple research studies reveal how CBD products work, how they affect the body, and how individuals respond to use.
CBD is commonly used by many to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep, according to Harvard Professor Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a regular contributor to Harvard Health Publishing.
“We need more research but CBD may prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain,” says Grinspoon.
A 2019 study in The Permanente Journal attributed CBD’s benefits as a sleep aide to its anxiety-relieving and stress-reducing effects.
With the stressors of the pandemic not going away any time soon, restorative sleep is more critical and, for many, more elusive than ever, according to experts, who say that insomnia and sleep issues are more prevalent concerns.
Experts at the CDC worry that too many American’s are using alcohol to escape stress and induce sleep.
It’s not a fix for either, according to research that points to evidence that alcohol weakens the body’s immune system and increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia.
The CDC hopes the public will heed its warning that that not only is alcohol not a cure for COVID-19, that it actually can contribute to contracting the virus.
Anxiety isn’t the only thing fueling pandemic drinking. As people work from home and self-isolate, they experience loneliness and boredom – two more potential triggers for excessive alcohol use, she said.
“All these factors have crashed together to make this a potentially difficult time. There’s no last call when you’re your own bartender,” says dela Cruz, an assistant professor in psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute in Dallas.
Widespread joking on social media about “quarantinis” and COVID day-drinking might be fanning the flames of alcohol abuse.
“This cultural idea that alcohol is a good way to deal with problems is disheartening,” she says. “If it’s one drink, it’s totally fine. But I’m worried when drinking becomes the routine, go-to solution.”
It’s important that mechanisms to ‘de-stress’ don’t end in ‘distress.”
Is it time to curtail cocktail hour?