Why a glass of wine before bed won’t help you sleep better

December 5, 2023  10:02

There is a common belief within our communities that a drink of alcohol before bed can aid in a night of restful and well-rounded sleep.

The experts have now stepped in to disprove this rationale. Their stance is that pouring out a nightcap before heading to bed will only leave you feeling dazed, thirsty, and potentially nursing an alcohol-induced headache.

When you close your eyes at night, your brain goes into four different stages of sleep. The stages of falling asleep, light sleep, and deep sleep are known as the non-REM stages and are part of your body’s sleep cycle.

The fourth and final stage of sleep that we go through every night is known as the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. REM sleep is the deepest stage and is crucial for learning, memory, creativity, and problem-solving.

This phase is essential as it “provides rest and restoration for the brain,” says Ian Hamilton, a professor in addiction in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York.

Alcohol suppresses your body’s ability to enter the REM sleep stage, limiting the amount of REM sleep that you can have after a night of drinking. Due to this, you’re far more likely to wake up during the night and feel less restored in the morning.

Alcohol’s impact on the quality of your REM sleep is a consequence of your body metabolising the booze during the night, explains Dr Melissa Oldham from the University College of London’s (UCL) Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group.

After having a drink, individuals tend to fall asleep quickly due to the sedative effects of alcohol. This is usually translated into feelings of relaxation and tiredness.

However, once alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and small intestine and into the bloodstream, it slowly begins to metabolise.

As this process unfolds throughout your sleep, “this can lead to people waking up more frequently and feeling more tired the next morning,” Oldham says.

Experts warn that alcohol’s impact on REM sleep isn’t the only thing affecting your sleep quality — as alcohol is a diuretic, it also leaves you prone to dehydration.

Alcohol’s dehydrating effects disrupt the body’s ability to perform its sleep cycles; individuals may wake up with a dry mouth and a desperate need for a glass of water, while they also may need to use the bathroom.

Regular drinking has the potential to cause or exacerbate insomnia in individuals, with alcohol being one of the most common triggers of the disorder which affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

“Some people will experience insomnia as a result of regular drinking. Although they may fall asleep initially, they will experience regular sleep disruption which will make them feel lethargic during the day,” Hamilton says.

As the brain becomes familiar with falling asleep while aided by alcohol, it begins to form the habit of expecting the drink at bedtime. According to Piper, this will worsen your sleep in the long run.

“If you drink regularly, your brain will have adapted to expect the alcohol before bedtime and relies on it to get you to sleep,” he said.

Individuals also reported experiencing increased energy levels, a clear mind, a feeling of achievement, easier weight management, and an increased ability to save after participating in the challenge, according to the company behind the initiative.

Since your body takes approximately one hour to process one standard drink of alcohol, the more you drink, the longer it’ll take for the body to metabolise it and the more disrupted your sleep will be.



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