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Could Alcohol Be Affecting My Sleep?
The misconception of a glass of alcohol helping you drift off into a good night’s sleep is often banded around to cure insomnia and poor sleep ailments. Alcohol can seriously hinder your sleep quality and negatively affect it, and that nightcap may be doing more harm than good. But how could alcohol be affecting your sleep? Here, we will look through the chemical and physical effects that alcohol has on your body and your sleep cycle.
Whether it’s one tipple late at night or an entire evening of heavy drinking, alcohol, and a good night’s sleep, don’t mix. Here is why.
How Alcohol Affects Sleep
While it is true that alcohol makes you drowsy, and in some cases, makes you fall asleep, it causes disturbances in your brain that can affect your sleep cycles. When you fall asleep, your mind goes into a process of light sleep, pre-REM sleep, REM sleep (rapid eye movement), and back around again. To get a good night’s sleep, you need to have a certain amount of REM sleep. Alcohol, while making you drowsy, also prevents you from obtaining this REM sleep, and therefore you wake up feeling groggier and more tired than ever before. Several nights of poor quality sleep can cause issues throughout the day and harm your coordination, cognitive function, and even decision making.
Alcohol and Insomnia
Lack of proper sleep can lead to symptoms that mimic insomnia due to the lack of quality sleep. As REM sleep = deep sleep, you are more likely to wake up at the slightest disturbance during the night and lose out on precious light sleep as well as REM sleep. As your body begins to adjust to a routine of waking in the night, it will assume that this is a new habit and will naturally start to wake, sometimes without any disturbance at all. It’s essential to try and reduce these disturbances and increase your deep sleep so that your body doesn’t get into this routine.
Alcohol and Sleep Apnoea
Sleep apnoea is a condition whereby your air passages narrow to the point that it obstructs your airways. When you drink alcohol before you sleep, it can relax the muscles in your airways, increasing your risk of sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is a serious condition that reduces your oxygen intake and increases your carbon dioxide levels. Combine this with the reduction in deep breaths that can come from drinking too much alcohol, and you have a potentially lethal situation.
Why You Should Cut Out Alcohol Before Bed
As you have gathered by now, alcohol can have a severe effect on your quality of sleep, but how bad is this for you in the long run? Well, a lack of sleep, particularly quality sleep, can cause lots of physical and mental ailments that can make your life miserable. Physical problems such as poor coordination, increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and depression can all result from lack of sleep. Additionally, cognitive functions such as coping with social situations, memory, and clear thinking can all be impaired by lack of sleep. This is why it is advised to cut out alcohol, especially several hours before bedtime.
Habits For a Good Night’s Sleep
Exercising is a great way to tire your body out and help keep you healthy. A regular exercise regime will help keep your internal health at an optimum and help you to combat the long-term effects of regular drinking. However, it’s important to avoid exercise just before bed (well, a few hours before, to be precise). Exercising too close to bedtime will stimulate endorphins which will keep you awake, so it’s vital to exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime.
· Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
It’s no surprise that stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can keep you awake, but many people will be shocked to find out that these stimulants can stay in your system for several hours prior to bedtime. It can take up to 10 hours for caffeine to fully work out of your system, with 50% still being present after 6 hours. Consider this net time you have a late afternoon coffee!
· Control Your Sleeping Environment
Our bodies fall into a deeper REM sleep cycle if the temperature is cooler. Many people believe, wrongly, that a warm room will make you sleepier. While this might feel the case, it actually works AGAINST deep, quality sleep, and therefore a cooler bedroom is the ideal temperature for your sleeping environment. It’s also worth thinking about the quality of your bedding. Old bedding can have lumps and bumps that keep you up at night.
Another important factor to consider in your sleeping environment is light, particularly blue light. Blackout curtains and blinds will help eliminate natural light, but blue light (the kind that can be emitted from TVs, alarm clocks, and other devices) can all disturb your sleep cycle and prevent you from the optimum deep sleep you need to feel rejuvenated. Try turning these devices off or onto dark mode and see if this improves how you feel in the morning.
· Get Into a Sleep Routine
Just like a child takes comfort in their night-time routine, so could you! It’s vital for your body clock to feel a sense of routine and regularity when it comes to bedtime and waking times. Try to aim for a 15-minute window each night to go to sleep and the same in the morning. Anything between 6 and 8 hours is classed as enough sleep for an adult, so try to aim for this. It is also good to create a “going to sleep” routine that will help you wind down and trigger relaxation hormones. The familiarity of a routine, say washing your face, a hot drink (not caffeinated), and a few pages of a book, will encourage your brain to slowly shut down and be more prepared for a good night’s sleep.
Now that you have a better idea of how alcohol could be affecting your sleep, we hope that you can make more informed decisions on your alcohol intake in the evenings and understand the serious impacts it could have on you the following day. Try to get a good night’s sleep tonight and have a cup of cocoa instead.