Drinking tonight? Here’s how alcohol could affect your sleep

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If you’re dying for a good night’s sleep, you might want to rethink the glass (or two) of wine you have with dinner.

In a recent survey by Mattress Advisor, 25 per cent of people reported feeling restless and waking up often throughout the night after drinking, 23 per cent reported feeling hot while they slept and 19 per cent reported nausea and vomiting.

What’s more, 55 per cent of respondents said they thought they got a good night’s sleep after drinking, but Susan Bondy, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, said this is likely because of alcohol’s drowsy effect.

You might fall asleep quickly, she said, but alcohol can hurt your rest in several ways throughout the night, leaving you grumpy in the morning.

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The actual science behind how alcohol affects your brain is difficult to understand, but Bondy describes alcohol as “one of the messiest psychoactive substances.”

“Some drugs interact with very specific neurotransmitter receptor sites and very specific systems,” she said. “Alcohol actually interacts with a ton of them, so it’s very difficult to … predict exactly what the effects will be in a specific person.”

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How drinking affects your sleep will also depend on your tolerance and the dosage. Alcohol could have a stimulating effect on one person, and a sedating effect on another, Bondy said.

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Here are all the ways alcohol can negatively impact your trip to dreamland tonight.

Drinking will make your sleep worse

Drinking in large quantities before bed will undoubtedly cause you issues later in the night.

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It will affect your “sleep architecture,” which is what Bondy calls the time you spend in deep sleep versus the time you spend in light or dreaming sleep.

“The proportions of time change,” she said. “You spend a lot more time in light sleep and then you slightly wake up and you’re aware of being awake. It’s related to insomnia.”

It will also reduce the quality of your sleep.

“At the end of the night, you haven’t had a deep sleep, which restores brain function, solidifies your memory [and more],” said Bondy.

Alcohol has also been proven to affect different hormones, like melatonin, which is “well understood to be related to constituting the circadian rhythm, and alcohol has an adverse effect on melatonin levels,” she said.

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“People are not well advised to use alcohol as a remedy for mood, for sleep or for anything else, because it’s probably going to have counter-intuitive effects.”

How it affects your body

Ashley Little is a sleep content specialist at Mattress Advisor and one of the lead authors of the survey.

In her research, she found that there are lots of physiological ways alcohol can contribute to a worse sleep.

In a normal sleep cycle, over the night, you’re going into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep about every 90 minutes and you’re cycling through all the sleep stages naturally, in a healthy way,” she said.

“When you drink alcohol, you’re getting less REM sleep in the first few sleep cycles, so it’s actually suppressing the amount of time you’re spending in REM.”

Then, later in the night, your body tries to compensate for that, which can cause a lot of disruption.

“Another thing is people have to pee more when they drink before they go to bed, so you’re waking up having to make a bathroom run,” she said.

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There are no ‘quick fixes’

Whether you’re bracing for a hangover or hoping to cancel out the beer you had while watching the game, no amount of water or greasy food will reverse the damage done.

“There really is no quick fix,” said Bondy.

It doesn’t even matter if you try to space out your drinks over the night — it’s your blood alcohol level that matters.

“It goes away gradually, and during that time, you have very severe irritant chemicals in your system,” she said.

“Adding water lightly dilutes the alcohol content, but it doesn’t actually remove [or] reduce the number of molecules of alcohol in systems that have to be dealt with.”

Some people take pain relievers in anticipation of a midnight headache, but Bondy advises against this.

“Many of those interact very badly with alcohol.”

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