It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an alcoholic drink before bedtime can help you get to sleep. But, while a glass of wine or two might lull you into the land of nod, many experts agree that on balance, alcohol and sleep do not get on.
By Irene Falcone
I used to think that a nice glass of red wine in the evening was helping me unwind. But, when I gave up alcohol and my sleep improved, I started to realised that my evening wine had been messing with my zzzzs for years.
So, how does alcohol affect sleep? There are several ways that alcohol can mess with your sleep. Read on to find out what they are.
Circadian rhythms, also known as your master biological clock, are internal processes that regulate everything from sleep/wake cycles to cognitive functions and mood fluctuations over a period of 24 hours.
Studies show that alcohol can compromise the circadian rhythm. The bad news is that this disruption doesn’t just mess with a good night’s sleep, It can also impact liver function, the gut and microbiome.
Melatonin is the key hormone that helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycles. Research from the US found that alcohol can suppress melatonin. In fact, a single unit of alcohol an hour before bedtime can reduce melatonin production by nearly 20 per cent.
REM Sleep V Deep Sleep
So what happens after you’ve had an alcoholic drink? During the first half of the night, when your body is busy metabolising the alcohol you’ve consumed, you will spend more time in deep, slow-wave sleep and less time in REM sleep. But while ‘deep sleep’ sounds good, REM sleep is vital for mental restoration, including memory and emotional processing.
In the second half of the night, the sedative effect of the alcohol has well and truly worn off. The body then experiences a ‘rebound effect’ – moving from deep sleep to light sleep – with more micro-awakenings.
In addition, if you go to bed with alcohol in your system, you’re more likely to wake up early and will have trouble going back to sleep. You’re also likely to wake more often to visit the bathroom, particularly in the second part of the night. And, you’re likely to snore more and experience sleep-disordered breathing.
The result? a day of fatigue, irritability and poor concentration. Even if you’re not hungover, alcohol-induced sleep loss can impact your mood in a negative way.
This one is easy – don’t drink alcohol before bed. However, sometimes it’s easier said than done.
Another easy option is to switch your usual alcoholic drink for a non-alcoholic one. You’ll get the placebo effect of the drink you love without compromising your health.
Please note: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you have any questions about your sleep health, speak to your doctor.