Using alcohol as a way to go to sleep faster is only accomplishing more harm than help. Most health professionals on are the same page about a nip before bed: it’s not a smart move.
Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can actually cause interrupted sleep throughout the night and you might miss out on a deep sleep altogether. Rajkumar Dasgupta, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, said alcohol influences how much sleep and what kind of sleep you’ll end up getting.
“Alcohol messes with your sleep cycles, resulting in more arousals, and causing you to spend less time in the important deep sleep stages,” said Dasgupta, who is also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
The quick slide into sleep is affected on the back end of your cycle as you consistently awaken throughout the middle of the night. A sleep cycle changes approximately every 90 minutes, and the deep sleep that happens later in the night is when the effects of alcohol begin to kick in, Dasgupta said.
Waking up when you should be in a deep sleep can prevent you from feeling well-rested, and deep sleep is necessary to keep your memory and cognition running smoothly. Patricia Carter, an associate professor at the University of Texas School at Austin’s School of Nursing said alcohol can be a tempting solution to get some sleep because it suppresses the central nervous system.
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“When someone drinks alcohol, it results in them feeling ‘calmer’ and more relaxed because it directly impacts the system that is causing anxiety or ‘stress’ feelings,” said Carter, a Sleep Research Society committee member.
Restlessness comes as the body attempts to rid itself of the alcohol, which it recognizes as a toxin, Carter said. The body does this by extracting water from cells to flush the toxin out through the kidneys and bladder, contributing to multiple bathroom trips.
Dasgupta said alcohol suppresses the anti-diuretic hormone in the body, making trips to the bathroom – and electrolyte loss – even more frequent. Allowing three to four hours between drinking and sleeping is helpful to making sure your sleep isn’t affected.
The body takes about three hours to process eight ounces of wine, Dasgupta said. The exact time varies according to body size, gender and alcohol intake.
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Carter said she recommends a downtime of four hours for both men and women, though women are affected by alcohol differently than men. Drinking two glasses of water for every alcoholic drink will help your system to flush out the alcohol, but more water is needed for sugary drinks as the body has to flush both alcohol and sugar out, she said.
Drinking at dinnertime is always a better route to take when consuming alcohol, since the body will have time before bed to metabolize more, but it can be a double-edged sword, Carter said. Eating with alcoholic beverages can make people want to drink more to feel a buzz.
Dasgupta said consuming sleep aids such as Ambien or Benadryl should never be mixed with alcohol, since it is also a respiratory depressant. Sleep aids affect the same receptors as alcohol, making breathing twice as difficult.
Alcohol also causes havoc for people with sleep disorders. Alcohol in combination with sleep aids only causes more issues for those with sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is interrupted in the sleep, Dasgupta said.
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.