The truth about your evening nightcap

The truth about your evening nightcap

Having an after-work beer or an evening glass of wine to help de-stress and wind down for a good night’s sleep – even occasionally – may not be the best idea, according to a recent study on alcohol consumption and its effects on the quality of our sleep.

After reviewing the heart rate rhythms of 4,098 men and women between the ages of 18 and 55, researchers concluded that as little as one drink could impair and interrupt the restorative benefits of sleep.

“Nothing is more restorative than a good night’s sleep, which is the time when the body and the brain repair and recharge,” says Dr. Olusegun Apata, a pulmonologist, critical care physician and sleep specialist with Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “For adults, getting seven or eight hours of quality sleep is the average amount of sleep needed to stay alert, process information and function properly.”

Researchers have warned for years about the possible link between drinking and dependency, birth defects, cancer and rapid aging. But this study, published in JMIR Mental Health, shines new light on how alcohol affects automatic bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate and other functions during sleep.

“While there is still some debate about the overall health benefits associated with moderate drinking, sleep science suggests that restless or too little sleep can increase your chances of developing heart problems, respiratory disorders, diabetes, stroke and even Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Apata says.

As part of the study, researchers placed participants’ alcohol intake on a spectrum ranging from low to heavy drinkers. Then used special devices to collect biofeedback as participants slept in real-life settings. Those who consumed low amounts reduced the restorative benefits of sleep by 9.3 percent. Moderate drinkers saw a 24 percent reduction in sleep quality. Men and women with high alcohol intake decreased physiological recovery by 39.2 percent.

While becoming a teetotaler may be too extreme, Dr. Apata recommends finding enjoyable ways to relax before bedtime without alcohol such as drinking non-caffeinated herbal tea, practicing meditation and the following sleep hygiene tips:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night – even on weekends and vacations
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep, even if that means going to bed earlier than normal
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet and avoid consuming caffeine
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Turn off electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Set the mood for sleep by dimming the lights, making your bedroom a quiet, relaxing place and keeping the room temperature as cool as comfortable
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime
  • Resist heavy meals before bedtime; have a light, healthy snack, if you’re hungry
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying, get out of bed

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About the Author

Cassie Richardson
Cassie Richardson

Cassie Richardson, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. She has more than 10 years of experience in health care communications, marketing, media and public relations. Cassie is a fan of musical theatre and movies. When she’s not spreading the word about health and wellness advancements, she enjoys writing fiction.