alcohol and sleep

Alcohol And Sleep – Does It Help?

Alcohol and sleep – there’s a common misconception that alcohol helps you get off to sleep, but it doesn’t!

Alcohol is not a sleep inducer but a sedative, it actually acts on the same receptors in the brain that general anaesthetics do.

You might be thinking “But alcohol livens me up!”

What’s actually happening is alcohol’s initial sedative effects act on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that modifies behaviour. Before alcohol makes you feel sleepy it starts quietening the prefrontal cortex which takes the brakes off your inhibitions. Sometimes you end up acting like an idiot.

The more you drink, the more this sedation grows. When someone’s had way too much you can’t even wake them up – because they’re not truly asleep, they’re heavily sedated by this point.

Alcohol And Sleep

So alcohol sedates you rather than helping with normal and healthy sleep. This is why you often feel unrefreshed the morning after drinking because you haven’t really slept, even though you’ve been unconscious.

There are other problems too.

If you’ve had enough alcohol before going to bed your blood sugar will crash a few hours later. As a response to this your body releases cortisol to raise it back up again. Cortisol is a stress hormone and will wake your brain up. So you get this weird knackered and wide awake feeling at the same time. It’s often about 3 hours into ‘sleep’ that this happens.

You might be awake ages until this cortisol effect settles down.

Another issue is alcohol’s effect on REM sleep, your dream sleep. In a normal and healthy night’s sleep you’ll have several chunks of it. Alcohol is the most potent suppressor of REM sleep known. When you knock out a lot of your REM with booze you can’t  get good quality sleep that night. If you do this often it has a disastrous effect on your ability to learn because it hinders your brain laying down memories from the day.

When people have been studied in sleep labs after alcohol they’ve been found to have a lot of awakenings during the night that they don’t remember the next day because they were quite short. That’s in addition to the wide awake eyes of cortisol.

All of this adds up to feeling pretty rubbish the next day.

Have you noticed your alcohol tolerance reducing as you get older? Let me know below if you want to know why and I’ll let you know soon.

You might be interested in this one – best alcohol for weight loss

Have a great week!

Dr Julie


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