It’s not uncommon to enjoy a beer or glass of wine at the end of a long day of work. Many people take their drinks with friends or alone at home as they unwind and ready themselves for bed. And these days, it’s hard not to enjoy the variety of craft beers as well as cocktails available on the market.
Aside from the variety of beverages and social quality of drinking, alcohol has long been thought of as a de-stressor and sleep aid. Have one drink and drift off to sleep. And while alcohol does help you get to sleep faster and deeper in the first half of the night, you’ll be surprised to learn that alcohol inhibits deeper sleep during the second half of the night.
THE SLEEP STAGES
Sleep is an important part of healthy living. It’s common knowledge now that too little sleep can lead to an overactive and overstressed body. You need sleep to settle and calm the nervous system and reset your internal clocks. This reset is crucial to your body performing at optimal levels. Often this overstressed state causes some to have a harder time falling asleep, which is why they reach for a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.
There are four main stages of sleep…
Stage one: In this stage, you enter a light sleep where your body begins to doze off and all your bodily process slow down. Your eye movements slow down and your brain produces alpha and theta waves. It’s a relatively short stage of sleep, only lasting about seven minutes. You can be easily woken up at this point.
Stage two: By now it’s a little harder to wake you up, although it’s still a lighter stage of sleep. You’ll spend most of your sleeping time in this stage. For naps, you’d want to wake up after this stage. And by now your brain creates waves known as sleep spindles.
Stage three and four: Stage three is the beginning of deep sleep. You’ll spend about a quarter of your sleep time in this stage. You’re much less likely to respond to environmental stimuli. And often this stage blends with the fourth stage. Your brain produces delta waves as you dive deeper into restorative sleep. This is the stage in which your body restores muscles, boosts your immune system, stimulates growth and creates energy.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM): About 90 minutes into your sleep cycle, you’ll enter the REM phase of sleep, and the average adult experiences five to six cycles of REM in one night. This is the dreaming state. Your brain waves and body are active. You might even jerk yourself awake. REM plays an important role in memory consolidation.
Everyone experiences these stages of sleep when sleep goes undisturbed. But when you throw alcohol in the mix, you get a whole other experience. As mentioned above, alcohol does help you get to sleep faster. That means entering the first stage of sleep right away. Studies show that you get to sleep faster and deeper in the first half of the night, while your body is still under the effects of alcohol.
But eventually, your body will begin to process the alcohol out of your system. At which point, you become susceptible to little noises and sounds in your environment. And according to one study, alcohol fragments your REM sleep. The REM stage could be longer or shorter than normal. And this fragmentation causes you to teeter between wakefulness and sleep, which inhibits the restorative third stage.
So it’s time to dispel the pervasive belief that a drink before bed relieves stress and aids in sleep. Ultimately, alcohol impairs quality sleep states and leaves your body feeling unrested and overtired the next day. When you go for your next beverage take into consideration the time of day and think twice before drinking before bed.