It seems like it is almost part of the American culture to have a few drinks in the evening before bed. So with all the new information about how some alcohol can be good for you (such as red wine) and knowing that a lot of people like to “relax” in the evening with an adult beverage I did a little research.
It turns out that while we know that heavy boozing can make you feel like a sleep-deprived zombie the next day—and not only because you were out until 2 a.m. Drinking a lot of alcohol before bed decreases the time you spend in deep sleep and cuts down the hours of real ZZZs you get.
A new study helps explain why: When you’re sleeping sober, your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) kicks in, lowering your heart rate and relaxing your muscles. As a result, you sleep deeply and wake up feeling rested. But when you’re drunk, your sympathetic nervous system—which keeps you alert and active during the day—never relinquishes control to your PNS.
So how much can you drink without ruining your sleep? In the study, men who drank a moderate amount of alcohol—the equivalent of three 12-ounce beers for a 170-pound man—slept about 10 minutes less than the guys who drank a non-alcoholic placebo. But men in the study who drank twice as much alcohol—or roughly 6 beers—slept 30 fewer minutes and woke up nearly twice as often during the early morning hours.
What it proved was that while a little alcohol now and then may help you fall asleep, drinking even moderate amounts too frequently will seriously mess with your sleep cycle. It also went on to say that your body’s tolerance develops pretty quickly to the sedative effects of alcohol. That means if you’re frequently reaching for a bedtime bottle, you’ll need more and more alcohol to feel the same effect.
So what does all this mean? The bottom line is that a small nightcap now and then may help you fall asleep. But if you want to get a full night’s rest on a regular basis, skip the alcohol and learn to decompress before you go to bed. Studies have shown that following a routine, dimming the lights, and avoiding stress-related triggers like e-mail right before bed can help you fall asleep and stay asleep and we all know how important sleep is to our overall health.