#Alcohol and #sleep have a paradoxical relationship. It’s a depressant, and works the way sleeping pills do, often making us feel drowsy. But alcohol is not the sleep elixir it may appear to be. Though it may help you fall asleep, alcohol causes sleep disruptions later in the night, leaving us irritable and tired the next day.
The Science of Alcohol and Sleep
In the first half of the night, alcohol increases deep sleep and suppresses REM dream sleep, says Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. “However, as it is metabolized, body temperature increases and stress hormones are released,” he explained. This results in frequent arousal and difficulty remaining asleep. There also may be a marked increase in REM sleep, resulting in vivid and disturbing dreams.
But drinking can affect our sleep in other ways. “Just about everyone knows someone who snores more when they drink,” says Dr. Jose Colon, M.D., MPH and founder of Paradise Sleep. Alcohol is a relaxant and softens the muscles of the airway. It can worsen sleep apnea, a fairly common sleep disorder where breathing is either shallow or pauses during sleep. While this may be a minor inconvenience to the casual drinker, or an annoyance to that person’s partner, over time, especially for heavier drinkers, this can become a bigger health concern.
So what can be done?
Of course, the simplest solution to the havoc alcohol wreaks upon our sleep schedule is not to drink, or not to drink as much. Easier said than done, right? For those times of overindulgence, here are some tips for not losing sleep over that one drink too many.
Try not to fall asleep drunk or even buzzed. “The goal is to have your blood alcohol level as close to zero as possible prior to going to sleep,” says Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Director of Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University Medical Center. “If you must drink, try to drink in moderation, and try to avoid drinking two to three hours prior to bedtime,” Dr. Kansagra says.
Drinking water before bed may help combat dehydration or the dry mouth that often comes from excessive drinking, however, new research says that it will not prevent a hangover the next day.
“As alcohol is metabolized, body temperature increases and stress hormones are released,” explains Dr. Rosenberg.
While there may be little that can be done for a person’s internal temperature, keeping the room cool may limit some of the sweating and thrashing that many experience after falling asleep after drinking.
Even if you drank a small amount and are unable to fall asleep, it’s never a good idea to add sleep-aids to the mix, cautions Dr. Kansagra, “Always avoid combining alcohol with other drugs, such as sleep aids and pain medications. This combination can be very dangerous!” It’s best to suffer through a bad night’s sleep and catch up the next night than to mix drugs and alcohol.
Don’t make it a habit
Using alcohol as a sleep-aid is a recipe for exhaustion, bad sleep and worse. Dr. Colon says that frequent drinking can also affect your biological clock. “We all have an internal clock that maintains awareness of our daily cycles and internal rhythms or patterns,” says Colon. “Disruption of these patterns lead to mood changes, impaired immune function, cancer susceptibility, and memory problems as well.”
While drinking every night as a way to relax may take the edge off the day, in the long run, it may be the very cause of your irritability.