How does alcohol affect your sleep?
Lots of published research has linked sleep problems with alcohol, but some of the underlining factors are a mystery.
One study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry suggests just one binge drinking episode affects the gene that regulates sleep, resulting in sleep disturbances.
“Binge drinking” typically happens when someone consumes four to five drinks in under two hours, and most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent, according to health authorities.
The study may shed light on earlier work by the same researchers that found that after extended periods of frequent drinking, subjects would fall asleep as expected, but would wake within a few hours and be unable to fall back asleep.
“If you are having a tough time sleeping, due to stress or whatever, drinking alcohol to relax before bed isn’t a good solution, in fact, it can worsen insomnia,” says Dr. Yelena Tumashova, a sleep medicine specialist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Instead, try relaxation techniques such as turning off electronics, reading a book and getting in some physical activity during the week, she says.
Alcohol impacts moderate drinkers who do not binge drink, too.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having one to two drinks per day. This definition refers to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days.
Having any alcohol at night helps people fall asleep, but not stay asleep, experts say.
Moderate drinkers who are interested in exploring better sleep can take time off from alcohol for a month and pay attention to their restfulness, Dr. Tumashova says.
One reason for better sleep during that time may be getting up to use the restroom less in the middle of the night.
“If you find that after taking a break from drinking you’re sleeping better, then you might consider changing your habits to reduce any sleep disruptions,” Dr. Tumashova says. “Sleep is extremely important for our mental and physical well-being, so treat it with respect.”
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