We all love that glass of wine before bed to wind down the day; so much that we've romanticized it on TV and perhaps even amongst friends. But how does alcohol affect sleep?
When consumed in small quantities (1 glass a day for women and 2 for men), alcohol may actually have surprising benefits on the body. However, there are two sides to the coin. Despite giving the impression that it helps with sleep, alcohol consumption before bed can cause major disruptions to sleep cycles. We’re digging deeper on the pros and cons of drinking alcohol and looking at how it may impact your sleep.
Benefits of low alcohol consumption
There are some surprising potential health benefits to drinking alcohol that you may not be aware of. However, it is important to note that this is only in very small quantities and may not apply to everyone. And unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s time to ditch the healthy diet and exercise to replace it with a daily glass of wine.
One glass of alcohol may provide health benefits to your heart. By raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, also known as good cholesterol, risk of heart attack, stroke or hardened arteries may be reduced by up to 40%. This cholesterol is known as good cholesterol as it removes other unwanted bad cholesterol.
Alcohol is also thought to help prevent kidney stones, as it makes you urinate more often, clearing substances that may build up to form stones. Research also suggests that low alcohol consumption, particularly of red wine, may help your body control blood sugar levels to help prevent diabetes.
But hold up. Don’t go reaching for the bottle just yet, as alcohol is associated with sleep problems and drinking in excess can actually increase your risk for many health conditions.
Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant that slows down brain activity. This sedative effect can help you get to sleep, but research has linked alcohol use to impaired sleep and daytime sleepiness. This may come as a surprise, as it may make you feel sleepy and relaxed, giving the impression it aids sleep. Here’s why having that glass of wine before bed may not be as beneficial as you think.
How alcohol affects your sleep
Our bodies experience four different sleep cycles that repeat in a cyclical pattern throughout the night. These are either deep sleep (non- REM), or light sleep (REM) - where dreams occur.
As alcohol is a sedative, it can cause you to enter deep sleep too quickly. When your body starts to metabolize it, the sedative effect wears off. This results in more deep sleep than REM and an imbalance in sleep cycles. By preventing you entering REM sleep, alcohol makes you more likely to wake up during the night and decreases quality of sleep. As REM is the most mentally restorative type of sleep, disruptions can affect our mental capacity the next day, causing drowsiness, poor concentration, and a worsened memory.
As well as affecting us the next day, disruptions to sleep patterns can also cause more vivid dreams and nightmares, and increase the likelihood of sleepwalking and sleep talking.
Sleep disorders have also been linked to alcohol use. The sedative effect relaxes your muscles and causes your airways to close up, which may increase your risk of developing sleep apnea - especially if you drink right before bedtime. Disruptions to sleep cycles and a lack of REM sleep can also increase your risk for insomnia. People with this condition will often self medicate with alcohol to help them fall asleep initially, which can then perpetuate poor sleep and increase likelihood of waking and not being able to fall back to sleep.
On the surface, a glass of wine seems beneficial for our health. But unfortunately, the cons far outweigh the pros, as even small quantities can result in extreme disruptions to your sleep cycles and day. We recommend keeping your glass of wine limited to dinner and allow yourself 4 hours before bedtime to ensure a good night's sleep.
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