There’s nothing like a glass of wine to put the worries of the day behind you, but if you’re sipping in pursuit of sleep, you’re likely to get quantity without quality.
A Rude Awakening
Have you ever gotten into bed after a few cocktails and felt grateful for the upcoming awesome night of rest, only to find yourself fully awake at 3 am? It’s normal for alcohol-induced sleepiness to be short-lived. You’re not just anxious or having bad dreams. Though it relaxes the body and can lull you to sleep, alcohol continues its processes in the body long after you nod off. It turns out that not all of alcohol’s effects are as restful as that initial sleepy state.
A few drinks will put you to sleep…
It’s true – alcohol can help you get to sleep faster initially, and that’s why so many people think it works as a sleep aid. The problem is that, as your body processes the alcohol, it messes up your normal sleep cycles. Instead of letting you descend gradually through REM sleep into deep sleep, drinking sends you straight to the deep end. As the alcohol wears off, you return to REM sleep, short-changing both stages of sleep. This limits the amount of restorative, energizing sleep you’re able to get. Ultimately, a night of drinking can rob you of your usual 5 or 6 sleep cycles, leaving you with just one or two. When that happens, you can expect to wake up feeling pretty groggy.
It’s all in your mind.
A research team at the University of Melbourne set out to measure how the brain reacts to alcohol while we sleep. Their finding that alcohol increases slow-wave sleep (aka delta activity) supports the notion that a nightcap can make you sleep better. At the same time, though, they found that alpha-wave brain activity increased, and that’s not supposed to happen while you’re sleeping. It turns out that the combination of alpha and delta activity creates conflict, prevents restorative sleep, and disrupts sleep patterns.
Steer clear of sleep-disrupting substances.
There may be some wisdom in celebrating happy hour just after work and long before bedtime. We all know to avoid caffeine when it’s time to sleep, but it’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol when you’re headed toward hitting the hay. That goes twice for insomniacs, who may turn to alcohol as a sleep aid for its early-evening impact. One doctor warns that using alcohol to fall asleepcan increase your chances of snoring, sleepwalking, sleep talking, and memory problems!
Set the stage for sleep.
It turns out that having an old, lumpy mattress isn’t the only thing that will make you toss and turn all night. Once you feel confident that you have a great bed – one that’s chosen based on your comfort and support needs – there’s plenty that you can do to enhance the quality of your sleep. As we’ve mentioned before, choose water or decaf tea late at night. Try not to eat after dinner. Invest in a white-noise machine if you live in a noisy apartment. Get some really comfy sheets, a cuddly comforter or duvet, and a pillow that you absolutely love. If you wind up having a drink or two every once in a while, you can rest easy. Alcohol in small amounts should have a minimal effect on sleep for most people.