We’ve all been plagued at times by tossing-turning-sleepless nights. When such unwelcome developments attack our sleep cycles, it can be tempting to seek out alternative solutions, shortcuts to slumber. For some, this shortcut might be sleeping medicine, tiny pills and purple liquids designed to trick us into sedation. For others, this may be eating till submission, your brain and body tapping out from calorie overload. For many others, however, it is a cure-all as old as time: the classic nightcap, an alcoholic beverage (or perhaps several) prior to bed to relax the body and mind, all the better to peacefully drift off to our dreams. Right?
As you may have determined from the headline above, it’s unfortunately not so simple. Once upon a time the recommended treatment for insomnia, surveys have shown that up to 15% of people have used alcohol as a means to fall asleep. Like most shortcuts, though, it is not a sustainable solution, as those same studies show its effectiveness only lasts a few days before wearing off. You’ve likely heard these healthier options proposed over and over, but they warrant mentioning again: exercising regularly, sticking to a sleep schedule, developing a nighttime ritual, maximizing your sleep environment. These are just a few simple, practical ways you can prioritize and encourage positive sleep habits in your life.
Yeah, sure. And yet, the shortcuts seem so appealing! And booze seems to work for me! At least sometimes...Why? I hear you, hypothetical reader of this blog, but it is that “sometimes” that becomes so crucial when evaluating alcohol’s usefulness in inducing sleep.
When people claim to experience positive sleep results from drinking, it is almost always in the speed they fall asleep. Studies show that whether you’ve had one or ten drinks, alcohol does affect how fast you’re able to do so. You’re also likely to get plenty of “deep sleep” after a few rounds, the portion of the cycle dedicated to repairing and strengthening your body.
At least for the first half of your night. As the buzz wears off and the night soldiers on, you’re more likely to wake up frequently and sleep more lightly. Alcohol suppresses vasopressin, the chemical that tells our kidneys to reabsorb water, leading to more trips to the bathroom and dehydration, which in turn leads to headaches. Likewise, the more you drink, the less REM sleep you’ll receive, a crucial portion of the sleep cycle where dreams take place and your brain is able to get organized and rebooted after a taxing day of new stimuli and memories. Plus, if you already suffer from sleep apnea, alcohol will only intensify your struggles as airways constrict even more after drinking. This is all without mentioning the addictive nature of alcohol itself, and how easy an occasional nighttime habit can turn into a full-blown substance abuse. So the tradeoff for fast sleep seems to be much lower quality and even potential for new related issues.
There are ways to still make it work for you, if not drinking altogether isn’t realistic for you or even desired. Try to stop drinking several hours before heading to bed. Limit your drinking when possible to just one or two a day, and for each drink, match it with a glass of water. And stick as close to your regular sleep schedule as possible.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, as you go out with friends to celebrate…whatever it is you celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, by all means enjoy a green-dyed beer at your favorite pub. Just don’t expect them to sing you to sleep as well. For a superior solution, use your ensuing hangover clarity to visit your local Sleep Outfitters to be properly fitted for the right mattress for you to find sleep that truly transforms. No shortcuts needed.