For a lot of people indulging in a quiet drink each night is the favoured way to unwind and relax after a hectic day. A lot of people think that a beer, glass of wine or scotch is actually doing their sleep the world of good. This is a trick, we tend to fall asleep quicker when we consume alcohol and this makes us think that our overall sleep is better as a result – but this isn’t the case.
Alcohol can interfere with the normal sleep process
Even a couple of drinks of alcohol can interfere with the normal sleep process. When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. According to Dr John Shneerson, head of the sleep centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, “Deep sleep is when the body restores itself, and alcohol can interfere with this. As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That’s why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep when you’ve been drinking.” In the course of a single night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you’ve been drinking you’ll typically have only one to two, meaning you tend to wake feeling exhausted and completely void of energy and freshness.
A disturbed night’s sleep
The interference that alcohol runs doesn’t end with the changes to our natural sleeping patterns and deep sleep stages. When you drink it also interrupts your entire night due to its diuretic effects – meaning you have to run to the toilet. This isn’t just the actual liquid that you consumed that is leaving your body, its diuretic nature encourages the body to lose extra fluid through sweat, which makes you feel dehydrated.
Alcohol and Snoring
It is common to hear people say that they only snore after a big night out drinking. You hear their partners comment how they hate sleeping next to them after an event or party. Drinking alcohol can also make you snore loudly because it relaxes the muscles in your body, which means the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose can stop air flowing smoothly, and is more likely to vibrate.
Insomnia and Alcohol
Insomnia is often a chronic condition, and relying on alcohol as a treatment for your insomnia is very dangerous. This merely increases the risk of the development of alcohol dependence and alcoholism. Alcoholism itself is also associated with the complaints of poor sleep characterized by prolonged time to fall asleep, multiple awakenings, and decreased REM sleep. Alcohol should never be used as an effective treatment for a bad sleep.
How to manage your alcohol intake for a better sleep
If you are drinking alcohol, try to avoid it too close to bedtime. Give your body time to process the alcohol you’ve drunk before you try to sleep – on average it takes an hour to process one unit, but this can vary widely from person to person. It is important that we do not view alcohol as a sleep aid, the regular use of alcohol will only lead to more issues and complete alcohol dependence.
Healthy Sleep Habits
- Get regular exercise but not too close to your bedtime
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the evening
- Have a healthy sleeping environment – cool, dark, comfortable mattress
- Set regular wake and bed times