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Does Alcohol Affect Our Sleep?

Source: Flickr.

Source: Flickr.

Throughout history, people have had the misconception that if a little alcohol helps you sleep, more alcohol will help you sleep better. Unfortunately, this is not accurate. While it is true that a small amount of drinking can help us get to sleep, adding more alcohol to the mix may disrupt sleep later in the night.

Think of it this way: You have a drink, maybe two, then doze off. When you wake up during the night you may not feel as rested as you would otherwise. In fact, you may wake up after drinking some alcohol but not when you go to bed completely sober.

According to a few studies, there is a trade-off. You fall asleep a bit more quickly but do not get the rest you need because you sleep more deeply in the first hours and not so deeply later (when you should be in the deepest sleep).

It’s Complicated

This may not sound like it would be a problem, especially when you consider that the slow-wave sleep may come a bit earlier. In this stage, the body takes care of things like healing and regeneration of tissue. However, alcohol also increases the probability of sleepwalking or sleep apnea if that is already an issue.

Studies have also shown that having several drinks can reduce the amount of random-eye-movement (REM) sleep. This is the stage of deepest sleep, when most of your dreams occur. Almost every research effort focusing on sleep has shown that people need their dreams during the REM stage. One drink, maybe two, and you will probably enhance slow-wave sleep and will not affect REM sleep at a later stage. The key certainly seems to be “moderation.”

Listen to the Old Wives

Somewhere in the past, people began to pass along helpful information about eating habits, sleeping habits, and many other subjects. It did not take long for some people to label these stories and suggestions as “old wives tales.” In most cases, they were using this to indicate that the information or story was not credible.

However, there is one bit of information of this type that could be very accurate. In an interview with several citizens of about age 90 or older, the person conducting the interview learned that these senior citizens each had a glass of red wine in the evening. They all reported that this helped them get to sleep.

Based on studies in the UK, Europe, the U.S., and Australia, they knew what they were talking about. One drink helped people in an Australian study experience more slow-wave sleep, the stage when replenishment and restoration occur most often. Researchers also noted that the subjects’ brains were resting but also were a bit more awake (alpha waves were in evidence).

This dual-activity leads one to believe the other studies that also show better sleep in the early stages and reduced-quality sleep later on. Once again, this is about moderation in all things, including your alcohol/nightcap.

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