Do you drink alcohol during the evening before you get under your sheets and drift off to sleep? If so, you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20% of Americans use alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol consumption can indeed help you fall asleep faster. After all, they don’t call it a “nightcap” for nothing. However, this doesn’t mean you’re getting a good night’s sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed can have some adverse effects on your body and sleep.
Keep reading to discover how alcohol affects your sleep and what you can do to improve your slumber.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Alcohol can greatly disrupt circadian rhythms — our 24-hour biological cycles that regulate everything from metabolism to sleep. These rhythms are coordinated by a tiny region in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus — the body’s “master clock.” Whenever you have a few too many drinks before bed, the alcohol can interrupt circadian functioning, which can throw your master clock out of sync and lead to disruptive effects.
One of these effects is the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and helps you stay asleep throughout the entire night. According to Healthline, when you consume alcohol before lying down in your bed, it can reduce melatonin production and disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. This suppression can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
As mentioned earlier, alcohol can help you fall asleep faster. During the first half of the night when the alcohol is metabolizing, your body is in a deep, slow-wave sleep. However, according to the Research Society of Alcoholism, you’re spending more time snoozing during this sleep stage and less time in beneficial rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
REM sleep is considered the deepest, most restorative form of sleep. It helps strengthen your immune system, restores energy, and supports short-term and long-term memory. Whenever you drink alcohol before bedtime, it can shorten REM sleep time, leaving you groggy, unfocused, and irritable when you wake up the next day.
You might also experience breathing problems whenever you drink before snuggling under your comforter. Alcohol can cause excessive relaxation in the neck, head, and throat, all of which may disrupt normal breathing patterns during sleep. If you’re prone to snoring, or have sleep apnea, consuming alcohol before bedtime can exacerbate these issues.
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Alcohol is a diuretic, which is a drug that increases the flow of urine. Bathroom breaks in the middle of the night can happen now and then. However, chronic alcohol consumption in the evening can cause these trips to occur more frequently, disrupting your normal sleep pattern.
What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep?
Now, all of this information doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an after-work cocktail or savor a glass of wine with dinner. Like most things in life, moderation is key. If you’re going to indulge, limit yourself to 1-2 drinks. Timing is important, too. Stop drinking about 2-3 hours before bedtime. The alcohol should be metabolized by the time you hit the hay. If you stick to these guidelines, you may achieve a well-rested sleep.
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