Does alcohol affect sleep?

A Common Tempting Solution?

When counting sheep isn’t enough to help you fall asleep, having a nightcap may seem like a tempting solution. Alcohol’s sedative properties make it an attractive choice to help you doze off quickly, but what happens throughout the night? Does alcohol affect sleep?

Using alcohol as a sleep aid may actually be a hindrance. In fact, according to a review of 27 sleep studies it does not improve sleep quality.

Consuming alcohol before bed disrupts your circadian rhythm, lowers the quality of your sleep and influences your health. Before you crack open a beer or pour a glass of wine, get an idea of how it will effect your good night’s sleep.

Why does alcohol help you fall asleep?

Treating yourself to an evening beverage can help you relax and settle in for the night. Alcohol is a depressant that seems initially stimulating but later becomes sedating. Although it’s a relief to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, the quality of sleep to follow will not be up to par.

Circadian rhythm disruption

Your circadian rhythm, also known as your body’s biological clock, sets the stage for many essential bodily functions. Alcohol inhibits this natural rhythm, making it difficult to adjust between periods of sleep and activity.

While having a few drinks before bed seems to put you into a deep sleep, it is often followed by periods of wakefulness throughout the night.

Disruptions in your circadian rhythm can leave you tossing and turning in the early morning hours, reducing the quality of your sleep.

The rhythm runs on a 24-hour cycle and determines activity level, affects metabolism and appetite, and influences behavior. What if your craving for pizza or skipping the gym actually stemmed from the drink you had the night before?

Even if you only consume alcohol occasionally, studies show that the effects on your circadian rhythm may lasts for days.

Lack of REM sleep

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep occurs intermittently throughout the night, comprising about 20-25% of your total sleep time. This is the restorative stage of sleep and is also when dreaming occurs.

Alcohol is shown to reduce the percent of time you spend in REM sleep. The amount of time lost correlates with how heavy your consumption was.

REM sleep is essential for improving memory function, concentration, and motor skills, so don’t let a nightcap rob you of your time in dreamland.

Breaking the Seal. Yes, Bathroom Breaks.

If you’ve ever been bothered by having to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, adding few drinks to the equation won’t help. Besides the obvious increase in fluid intake, alcohol is also a diuretic.

Alcohol’s effect on the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also known as arginine vasopressin, is to blame for bar bathroom lines or dreaded tailgating port-o-potty visits” 

A satisfying sleep lasts all night without you being disturbed every few hours.

Can you have your drink and sleep well too?

If you’re not quite willing to part with your evening cocktail, (because we can tell you –  we’re not!) then there’s a few tips to keep in mind. “Happy hour” isn’t just known for its afternoon specials, it’s also the best time of evening to indulge in a drink and still sleep like a baby.

Leaving at least 3 hours between consumption and bedtime allows your body ample time to metabolize the alcohol and reduces the negative impact on sleep. Keep the saying “everything in moderation” in mind and only indulge in one drink.

Remember, the ill effects of alcohol increase the more you consume. It is always helpful to create the ideal sleeping environment by reducing light pollution at night and allowing natural sunlight when it is time to wake up.

So in Summary; Alcohol does affect your sleep

Consuming alcohol before going to bed influences what happens while you sleep. Anyone who likes to enjoy an evening drink should consider the following when doing so:

  • Alcohol helps you fall asleep faster
  • But, it throws off your circadian rhythms
  • Alcohol hinders sufficient REM sleep
  • It can cause negative mental and physical health effects
  • It often increases overnight bathroom breaks

And there you have it. Honestly, we’re not super excited about the outcome of this topic we’ve investigated. But, it’s hard to dispute the information.

Our strategy (maybe not right for you – check with your Dr. ) but we like the sound of a drink in the afternoon, followed by water and getting our bodies ready for a good night sleep.

Interested in other articles related to sleep and health? Check them out here;

Our favourite so far is the one on Telemeres & Genetics.

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