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Sleep Tips

Alcohol and Sleep: Can They Get Along?

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If you've ever committed to losing 10 pounds or more, one of the most effective steps is to reduce alcohol consumption. Doing so also has benefits for better sleep. There’s a lot of confusion and misperception when it comes to alcohol and sleep, especially since alcohol is sedating and will initially make you feel drowsy – they’re called nightcaps for a reason, right? Think again. Let’s debunk some common myths and assumptions about alcohol and sleep by answering some frequently asked questions.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Sleep

Does alcohol help or hurt sleep?

While it’s true that alcohol may help you to fall asleep faster, ultimately it interferes with your sleep cycle. It does this in two main ways: first, alcohol can affect the quality of sleep. In otherwise healthy people, the initial induction of sleep by high doses of alcohol is followed later in the night by withdrawal, which causes frequent arousals and lighter sleep in the second half of the night and may result in an early morning awakening without sufficient rest. Second, alcohol can worsen existing sleep disorders and may even cause new disorders, such as sleep apnea.

If I drink, how can I still get a decent night’s sleep?

The best way to avoid sleep disruption is abstinence from alcohol, but let’s be honest – that’s not always feasible between birthday dinners, work happy hours and date nights. The goal is to get your blood alcohol level as close to zero as possible prior to going to sleep. If you must drink, try to drink in moderation and try to avoid drinking two to three hours before bedtime to give your body sufficient time to metabolize the alcohol. Everyone’s body deals with alcohol differently and metabolizes it at different rates, so you may want to cut yourself off earlier in the evening if you’re still having sleep problems after you’ve eliminated after-dinner drinks.

Are there types of alcoholic beverages that are more hurtful to sleep?

Though your taste buds are certainly the wiser, your brain doesn’t know Jim Beam from Johnny Walker. All the brain does is respond to the alcohol in these products and the level of alcohol in the body. The type of beverage is important only in that you can consume the alcohol in different amounts and at different rates. If you are trying to promote better sleep, it’s best to stick with beverages with lower amounts of alcohol that take longer to drink. This may limit your total alcohol intake for the night, which will help you lower your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) more quickly once you stop drinking.

What are the long term effects of drinking on sleep?

As with many other substances you consume, your body builds a tolerance to alcohol over time and will become decreasingly susceptible to the feelings of sleepiness that alcohol creates. For those using alcohol as a sleep aid, this tolerance may lead to increased consumption, which can pose a variety of health threats and will only perpetuate a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation.

Whether you’re cutting back on the booze for a diet or you simply need a little reprieve after holiday revelries during the winter months, the benefits of restricting alcohol consumption far outweigh the cons; but, as with any diet, it’s okay to let yourself indulge every now and then. For many of us, it’s simply not realistic to expect to be able to cut alcohol out entirely – after all, we celebrate some of life’s biggest moments with a clicking of glasses. When it comes to sleep and alcohol, a little moderation can go a long way toward helping you live a fuller and healthier life.

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