Does Alcohol Help you Sleep?
Alcohol is a depressant with sedative effects, promoting relaxation and sleepiness. As such, it is not uncommon to enjoy the occasional glass of wine or cocktail with your dinner. However, alcohol consumption, especially in excess, has been linked to poor sleep quality and decreased sleep duration.
Those who abuse alcohol intake also tend to experience insomnia symptoms and worsen symptoms of sleep apnea. This doesn't mean you should avoid drinking altogether. Drinking in moderation is considered safe for most people, and its effect on sleep largely depends on the individual.
How does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
According to a new review of 27 studies, alcohol enables healthy people to fall asleep faster and into a deeper sleep since it is a depressant. The production of adenosine, a chemical in the brain that induces sleep, is increased when drinking, which explains why many people report feeling sleepy after drinking.
However, this chemical quickly disappears, which likely leads to you waking up throughout the night. Drinking before bed is also associated with delta activity (slow-wave sleep pattern) and with alpha activity (a state of wakeful relaxation). The combination of both these brain wave activities turned on at the same time inhibits quality sleep.
Additionally, drinking reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a stage of sleep that occurs around 90 minutes after falling asleep where people dream, facilitate learning and retain memories. Disturbances to REM sleep can cause daytime sleepiness, trouble with concentration, and cloudy thinking. These side effects are more substantial the more a person drinks.
Regardless of how heavy or light the alcohol consumption was, alcohol has a significant effect on disrupting one's sleep.
Here are some shocking statistics about the effects of alcohol on sleep quality found by Finnish researchers in a 2018 study when analyzing the alcohol consumption and sleep habits of 4098 adults:
- Low alcohol intake reduced sleep quality by 9.3%
- Moderate alcohol intake (two drinks per day for men and one for women) decreased sleep quality by 24%
- High alcohol intake reduced sleep quality by 40%
This study also found that alcohol similarly affects men, women, and both active and non-active individuals. Surprisingly, it found that young people's sleep quality is affected by alcohol more than older adults' sleep.
How do you limit the Sleep Disturbances caused by Alcohol?
Despite alcohol's detrimental effects on sleep, it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice drinking to get quality sleep. You can still have the occasional drink as long as you follow these tips to ensure that alcohol does not interfere with your sleep.
- Do not drink within 3-4 hours of going to bed.
- Drink plenty of water while drinking alcohol to flush it out.
- Don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Drink with a meal.
- Don't drink alcohol if you're taking sleeping pills. Both are depressants that can cause difficulty breathing while sleeping, if both are taken at the same time.
Check out our blog - What and When should You eat to get Better Sleep?
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Written by: Sean Shih