After a hard day at work, we all want to relax. And what better way to do it than with a glass of wine? You may picture yourself nestled into your couch, with a lovely glass of red (or white, pick your preference) nearby. Especially in the winter season, this scenario certainly becomes more and more attractive. After all, you may feel that alcohol relaxes you – and it does to some extent – so you find it easier to go to sleep. But have you really paused to consider the effect that drinking before bed may have on your rest? In real terms, does alcohol help you sleep?
What Does Science Say About Alcohol And Sleep?
Yes, it is true that studies have proved that alcohol promotes sleep and reduces the urge to stay awake. If you are a chronic insomniac, a glass of wine or a shot of alcohol may indeed help you relax and you may find it easier to fall asleep. That is because alcohol depresses brain function, promotes melatonin (a natural sedative) production and adenosine (a sleep promoting chemical) and even relaxes the muscles. Thus it reduces sleep latency. If you have experienced this, you cannot be faulted for coming to the conclusion that alcohol indeed helps you go to sleep, particularly if the alternative is a restless night, full of tossing and turning.
Why then don’t you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, rested and raring to go?
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Consider this, alcohol is both a stimulant and a relaxant. Initially alcohol reduces inhibitions and makes a person more voluble as it helps release endorphins in the brain. This is the mild high that you get. When you drink more it reduces alertness and makes you drowsy – which is why you are not supposed to drink and drive as there have been many incidents of nodding off on the wheel resulting in avoidable accidents.
However, this does not mean that you get a restful night of sleep just because you fall asleep faster. That is because while alcohol promotes sleep this is non-REM sleep that is not as restful. When you have shorter periods of REM sleep or disruptions in REM sleep, you will wake up groggy and tired, not refreshed. It’s important to remember that your sleep cycle has quite a number of stages to it, and ALL of them are important!
There is also a relation between alcohol and sleep apnea. Your sleep gets even more disturbed if you fall into such deep sleep initially thanks to alcohol that all your muscles relax including your throat muscles and muscles that control your breathing. So you can easily suffer from snoring and sleep apnea in which your breathing temporarily stops and you wake up to breathe. This can happen more so if you are prone to snoring and sleep apnea or even if you are not.
Beware Of The Disruptions You Can’t See…
If you drink alcohol regularly you must be aware of the rule that you should drink one or two glasses of water for every glass of alcohol that you have. That is because alcohol is a diuretic and the additional water is supposed to replace the that which you would lose. But just think how this works when you are asleep – you will be getting up frequently to urinate and this will again disrupt your sleep. And if you don’t drink water you will still wake up feeling dehydrated. You may even find it difficult to go back to sleep.
Drinking can also have a rebound effect. It may make you fall asleep faster, but you may well get up half way through and then stay awake as the calming effects of the alcohol wear off. The physiological reasons for this have not been fully understood; however, the effect is that this disturbs your circadian rhythm and results in your sleep cycle being disrupted again.
Should You Continue To Use Alcohol As A Sleep Aid?
Alcohol should certainly not be used as an aid to fall asleep. If you have problems sleeping there are many other alternatives to alcohol that will not disrupt your brain function and allow you wake up feeling rested. There are many problems associated with alcohol. For one thing, the body develops alcohol tolerance so you will need to drink more to get the results that you are looking for. Alcohol can also be poisonous at high enough concentrations, and may thus affect health in different ways, none of them positive. Too much alcohol intake can affect the heart, brain, liver, pancreas and the immune system. Regular drinking can often spiral into alcohol addiction as well.
While you should not be using alcohol as a sleep aid, you can drink moderately and occasionally. As long as you do it earlier in the evening rather than just before bed time and (don’t mix alcohol with any prescription medicines), a glass or two of wine or alcohol should not trouble you too much. However, if you drink everyday and you keep increasing your alcohol intake you are going to have a problem. If you become addicted to alcohol, you will find falling asleep to be rather difficult since your body will maintain wakefulness while craving for it.
If you want a good night’s sleep and want to wake up feeling refreshed, then you should adopt good sleep hygiene habits. Drink calming substances like milk and make sure your bed and bedroom are restful. The room should be dark enough and you should develop a night-time winding down schedule that will promote sleep, whether this involves meditation, listening to music, reading, bathing or any other relaxing activity (including sex). The temperature of the room should be comfortable, not too hot or too cold.
At the end of the day an occasional drink or even a night of partying is not going to harm you. If you don’t sleep well once in a while, it should not be a cause for concern. In fact, if you stress about sleep too much, it will adversely affect the quality and quantity of sleep. As long as you maintain a healthy diet in terms of food and drink, exercise regularly and adopt some relaxing habits, you should be fine. At the end of the day, keep in mind that regular use of alcohol actually disrupts your sleep and has negative effects on your health, which is what you want to avoid.
What do you think about this writeup about alcohol and sleep? I’d love to hear more from you!
Sleep well until next time.