With summer picnics and parties on the horizon, many people will tip back a drink or two to celebrate. It’s a fine way to celebrate the coming warmer weather and (hopefully) slower pace of life for a few months. Sure, the booze might make you a bit more gregarious, laugh louder at bad jokes and take the edge off after a hectic day, but when it’s time to hit the hay, you can bet your sleep is going to be impacted – good and bad.
We posed our most burning questions about alcohol, drinking and sleep to some savvy experts. Cheers to that! Here’s what they told us…
Brandon Mentore, a strength and conditioning coach, functional medicine practitioner and sports nutritionist, Philadelphia, Pa.
“Alcohol affects sleep in several ways. The primary driver that causes the cascade of effects is the metabolic processing of alcohol. The body will prioritize the metabolism of alcohol over everything else because it’s essentially a toxin. The more alcohol you drink the more metabolic activity has to take place up until the point where things become bottlenecked (no pun intended). This point is different for everyone based on individual tolerance but loss of fine motor skills, coordination and slight impairments are signs that your metabolism has becomes bottlenecked. Continued alcoholic consumption makes things worse.”
Metabolism becomes more active to process alcohol which is a stimulating process that can impair sleep. The majority of the blood gets rerouted to the GI tract as it does when you eat food to aid in the process of metabolism. This can impair sleep because peripheral blood supply is limited, which in turn limits the restorative aspects sleep provides. The quantity that will put you over the metabolic ledge – which is where a hangover comes in – depends on your tolerance and frequency with which you consume alcohol. The dangers of mixing alcohol and sleep come with the quantity of consumption – the more you drink the further you impair sleep’s ability to restore, regenerate and recharge.”
To minimize effects of alcohol before bed, have a cut off time of an hour or more prior to sleep. Hydrate yourself and try not to mix different type of alcohols when you do drink.
Effectiveness of hangover remedies depend on the severity.
For light hangovers with headaches, hydration, electrolyte replenishment and light cardiovascular activity can help you bounce back.
For moderate hangovers, hydration and a 20-40 minute nap to allow the brain flush out lymphatic fluid burdened by alcohol metabolism.
For severe hangovers, think hydration, a meal consisting primarily of protein and fat, supplementation with probiotics and a 60-90 minute nap.
Dr. Ron Rosenthal, dentist/headache and migraine treatment specialist, Norfolk, Va.
“A study done several decades ago, which looked at alcohol consumption and sleep, found that those who drink heavily clench, grind and gnash their teeth during sleep 100 times longer than when they don’t drink and with 100 times greater force. These forces can easily cause tooth wear and tooth fractures. And when we clench, grind, and gnash, our teeth are in contact, which reduces the amount of space inside the mouth to its smallest size. If someone who does this has a large tongue, or small jaws, or a combination of these factors, there is a problem, i.e. not enough room for the tongue. It has to go somewhere else. It ends up being squeezed into the back of the throat and reduces the size of the airway, which causees snoring.”
“If your tongue is really big – and your jaws really small – your tongue can get forced back, against the back of your throat, which can seal off your airway so you can’t breathe at all. Your oxygen level drops. When it gets low enough your brain wakes up, notices the drop and wakes you up. You clear your throat, take in a loud snort of air, and breathe a few times, until your oxygen is back to normal. Then you go back to sleep and the same thing happens repeatedly all night long. It’s no surprise that a night like this will leave you tired in the morning – and tired all day. If you’ve been drinking to excess, your brain might not be able to wake you up. Oxygen level can drop to the point where it can no longer support life. Sleep apnea is related to the deaths of 38,000 Americans in their sleep every year.”
David Wagner, sleeping expert, SleepingExpert.org, Eugene, Oregon
“The key certainly seems to be moderation. There are a number of studies out there showing a definite link between alcohol and poor sleep. The theme is very much the same across other alcohol-healthissues. A little bit of alcohol is OK, even good, but too much is definitely harmful to sleep. Basically, a glass or two can help us enter deep sleep (the awesome restorative REM sleep stuff) faster, which is very good. Too much alcohol (i.e., beyond the second glass) and we enter deep sleep quickeras well. But later in the night, booze actually disrupts our REM stages.”
According to a few studies, there is a trade-off. You fall asleep a bit more quickly but do not get the rest you need because you sleep more deeply in the first hours but not later on (when you should be in the deepest sleep).
T.L. Curtis, licensed Master Social Worker with specialized knowledge of addictions prevention, intervention, and treatment, Decatur, Ga.
“The average adult male metabolizes about one drink per hour. Though the effects of the alcohol having been in the body may still be felt (elation, relaxation, etc.) afterward, there is technically no alcohol left in his body. If he were to take a blood or breathalyzer test, his blood alcohol would be .000. That said, giving your body adequate time to process the alcohol in your body is the best you can do for minimizing the effects. It’s unfortunate to find out that there is no “magic” to sobering up.”
“In my 19 years of education and training in the field of addictions, I have heard a million fables about hangover remedies. The truth is, if your body has been saturated with alcohol so badly that you feel hungover, then time without alcohol and rest in a safe space is needed to recover the fastest. For a person who drinks until they lose consciousness (‘pass out’), it can take their body 72 hours to recover from that particular episode of intoxication, once the body is allowed to rest.”
“Putting other drugs such as caffeine or more alcohol into the body, putting more alcohol, or putting the body under added stress (such as vigorous exercise) add extra pain to the recovery process and can even make it take longer for your body to return to normal functioning.”
Rebecca Lee, registered nurse and founder, RemediesForMe.com, a site that provides information on benefits of natural remedies, New York.
“Alcohol can adversely affect your sleep, even if consumed 6 hours before bedtime. If you want to sleep soundly through the night, don’t drink after 5 PM and limit yourself to one small alcoholic beverage.”
Many people have a night cap before bedtime, and in fact, alcohol does decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increases deep slow-wave sleep during the first half of the night.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, healthy middle-aged men were given a moderate dose of alcohol 6 hours before bedtime. Total sleep time, sleep efficiency, stage 1 sleep and REM sleep were all reduced compared to another group that drank just mineral water. Drinkers experienced twice as much wakefulness in the second half of the night. The intriguing aspect of this study is that, by the time they went to bed, all of the subjects had a breathalyzer reading of zero. Drinking alcohol disrupted sleep even after it had been eliminated from the participants’ bodies.
Hungry for more sleep info?
Call Us: +1 800-218-3578
Mon-Fri 10am-9pm PST
Sat-Sun 10am-8pm PST