Health

Why you should NOT drink alcohol before going bed – experts reveal how a strong drink disrupts your sleeping patterns


For years, we’ve been led to assume that a night cap will give us a wonderful night’s sleep.

However, experts say this logic is flawed.

In fact, they claim pouring yourself a tipple before hitting the sack will only leave you groggy, dehydrated and potentially battling a pounding headache.

Booze interrupts the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. This phase — the deepest of four we all go through every night — is vital for memory, learning and creativity. 

Ian Hamilton, who specialises in addiction at the University of York, said this part ‘provides rest and restoration for the brain’.

Although alcohol reduces consciousness and helps you drift off to sleep straight away, it disrupts REM sleep causing you to wake up feeling unrested

Although alcohol reduces consciousness and helps you drift off to sleep straight away, it disrupts REM sleep causing you to wake up feeling unrested

This is the reason you can wake up during the night after drinking, which can leaving you feeling less refreshed.

Dr Melissa Oldham, from the University College London (UCL) Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, explains this is due to the body metabolising alcohol later in the night. 

After enjoying a tipple, people may nod off faster due to alcohol’s sedative effect, which can increase relaxation and sleepiness.

But after alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine, it is metabolised slowly throughout the night.

‘This can lead to people waking up more frequently and feeling more tired the next morning,’ she said.

However, it’s not just the lack of REM sleep that leaves you feeling unrested — alcohol’s dehydrating effects will also leave you feeling weary the next day, experts say.

It can cause drinkers to wake up in the night in need of water, as well as needing to go to the bathroom.

Alcohol can also disrupt sleep by making drinkers sweat more, said Richard Piper of Alcohol Change UK.

He said this exacerbates dehydration, tiredness and headaches.

Karen Tyrell, CEO of the charity Drinkaware, said: ‘It is a diuretic so when you drink alcohol, you may find you have to get up in the night to go to the toilet, and it’s also been found that it can make you snore. 

‘If you are drinking, try to avoid it too close to bedtime and give your body time to process the alcohol you’ve drunk before you go to sleep.’

Drinking on a regular basis can trigger periods of insomnia, experts say. In fact, it is one of the most common causes of the condition, which strikes millions, according to the NHS. 

It can take an hour to metabolise a unit of alcohol, meaning alcohol can stay in the blood for a while after someone stops drinking, which can lead to a disturbed sleep

It can take an hour to metabolise a unit of alcohol, meaning alcohol can stay in the blood for a while after someone stops drinking, which can lead to a disturbed sleep

Mr Hamilton said: ‘Some people will experience insomnia as a result of regular drinking. Although they may fall asleep initially, they will experience regular sleep disruption which will make them feel lethargic during the day.’ 

However, eventually the brain gets used to falling asleep with the help of alcohol and starts to expect it, making your sleep even worse, according to Mr Piper.

He said: ‘If you drink regularly, your brain will have adapted to expect the alcohol before bedtime and relies on it to get you to sleep.

‘But without alcohol in your bloodstream, you’ll be sleeping more deeply and get that refreshed feeling when you wake up in the morning.’

Although it can take a few days to get your sleep back to normal as your ‘brain unlearns old habits’, not drinking will lead to ‘deeper, more restful sleep’, according to Mr Piper. 

Alcohol Change UK said 70 per cent of participants taking part in Dry January sleep better.

They also experience boosted energy levels, sharper concentration and happier year-round drinking, according to the charity. 

It can take about an hour for your body to process just one unit of alcohol.

So the more you have consumed, the longer it will take for the body to metabolise it.

So, if you had a pint of beer or a large glass of wine that contained three units, it could take up to three hours to sleep it off.

However, this can vary from depending on the size of the person. 

‘There are lots of factors which can affect how long it takes to sober up or sleep off alcohol, including how much someone drinks and whether they have eaten alongside their age, gender and body composition’, said Dr Oldham.

DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK

One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.

YOUR SCORE:

0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.



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