Enjoying a nightcap or two is something that many of us have done either to get over a busy workday, to de-stress or to take care of a niggling about of insomnia. It is a commonly held belief that alcohol helps in soothing nerves and puts one to sleep, particularly during testing times. In some cases, the habit becomes a dependency and rather than helping, causes greater harm.
One recent study published by alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research studied 500 ‘very lucky’ men and women who decided to consume varying levels of alcohol for the scientists to study its effects on their sleep patterns (when will any of us get to be a part of such an enticing research). The result of the study made for some interesting reading. But, before we delve into what researchers are now telling us, a little science class on sleep.
Sleep Cycles – NREM & REM:
Sleep consists of two major cycles – this NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and the REM (rapid eye movement). The NREM has further cycles of slow-wave sleep (SWS), which is that part of sleep that helps in regeneration of the bones and muscles and helps in maintaining a strong immune system. The REM cycle is one form of deep sleep that is the phase when we dream and when memories are formed.
Alcohol Impact on Sleep:
The research results show that the immediate and short-term impact of alcohol is to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Therefore, it is true that alcohol helps the NREM cycle. However, before we pop one the Champagne at this revelation, researchers also conclude that alcohol disrupts the deeper REM sleep cycles and whatever gains we get in the first phase of sleep through alcohol, are lost with disruptive sleep in the second phase. Also, the study highlights that alcohol can worsen sleep related problems like sleep apnea and sleep walking. Lastly, and more importantly, once you get used to sleeping with the aid of alcohol, larger doses of alcohol are required to get us to sleep, which in time becomes a dependency
Moderation is the key:
All things considered, the research and many other points highlighted that alcohol is indeed a good mood elevator and in moderate quantities, is effective in putting us to sleep. Alcohol consumption and the entire sense of social bonding that it brings with it, is also important in today’s highly networked world. However, the habit of drinking to put one to sleep is self-defeating, since our natural sleep patterns are disrupted and we end up being disoriented, groggy and generally listless as a result (remember that awful hangover after New Year’s Eve?). If you are having trouble sleeping, rely on other techniques and tools, and not look at the convenience of the tipple to solve your problems. Ultimately, alcohol is a good servant but a bad master and while its social acceptability is on the rise, moderation remains the key.
Effects of Alcohol on Sleep:
The effect of alcohol on sleep is directly related to the amount of alcohol you drink. The more you drink, the greater the negative effect on your sleep and experiences the next day. Drinking alcohol increases slow wave sleep in the first half of the night. Drinking alcohol shortens sleep latency or decreases the time it takes to transition from full wakefulness to sleep.
Alcohol interacts with sleep restriction to increase daytime sleepiness and negatively impact cognitive & physical performance. Even if alcohol makes you fall asleep, the effect is not long-lasting, as you tend to wake up frequently in the second half of the night. Research shows the effects on performance of even a moderate level of fatigue are equivalent to or greater than what is considered acceptable for alcohol intoxication.
Also Read: Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Skin
Depending on gender, age, weight and other factors, alcohol may affect some people more than others. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. The immediate effects of alcohol consumption can include slurred speech, blurred vision, changes in mood, loss of inhibition, vomiting, loss of balance and clumsiness. These effects are greater with increasing amounts of alcohol. More serious effects can be unconsciousness, alcohol poisoning, coma or death.
Longer time effects drinking can cause serious health problems, including alcohol dependence, liver disease, mood change, cancer (mouth, throat, breast, and bowel), sexual difficulties, memory loss and strokes.
Alcohol can affect more than just disease risk. There are acute physical and social harms that may occur if people drink too much. These can include injury, car crashes, getting into trouble with the police, arguments, and fights, unwanted or unsafe sexual activity, offending others or doing things later regretted. Controlling drink helps control behavior.