A Different Kind of Nightcap
A study on alcohol and sleep from the University of Michigan has gained much press attention – though much of the news is not new. Yes, alcohol powerfully disrupts sleep. It disrupts lots of healthy processes necessary for body regeneration. The real news may be that media people find the story news.
It’s been known for decades that alcohol causes people to wake from sleep far more often, and makes people feel less rested when they get up. The Michigan study was larger than most, and was done a little differently – people were allowed to feel “drunk.” Generally the researchers aimed, through Wild Turkey and vodka, to get their subject’s blood alcohol level to .10 (the average attained was .11,) and did the study with healthy people in their twenties who normally don’t drink for a nightcap.
About 5% of the American population does.
One interesting result of the study was in gender differences. Women who drank alcohol slept about 19 minutes less than when they drank a similarly colored drink. Doesn’t sound like much? Except they woke up a lot. Sleep efficiency went down 4%. Even small differences in sleep efficiency (time asleep divided by time in bed) are related to higher risks of getting colds and performing poorly the next day.
Waking more often is also very significant. If you wake people often enough even if it’s for seconds at a time, they will feel exhausted and unrested the next morning – even if they slept nearly the entire night.
By contrast the men slept relatively similarly the second night without booze – a contrast with many other studies. Still, they felt unrested after their one night of drink.
Why These Results Are No Surprise
It’s been known for a long time that
- Women metabolize alcohol differently. First pass through the stomach is markedly separate from what happens in men. In this particular study, they metabolized alcohol more efficiently than men, knocking it out of their system more quickly – so there was less alcohol around late in the night
- One ounce of alcohol at night will generally add 15-25 awakenings to the night
- People often feel less rested after drinking, though they sense they fall asleep more quickly
- Alcohol effects are different at different times of day – the psychomotor effects are 2-3 times at midnight what they are at 6 P.M.
- Chronic alcoholics and people who use alcohol to fall asleep are among the worst and hardest to treat insomniacs appearing in sleep clinics.
Advantages of Alcohol
Alcohol may be sanctified for its many biological and social intoxicating properties, but to say it’s generally healthy is a stretch. Drinking alcohol on a small, regular basis may, may be preventive of coronary artery disease, but most of the benefit lies in people who already have coronary artery disease.
Increases the risk of dozens of tumors
Kills brain cells
Kills heart cells
Slowly destroys the liver
Leads to millions of fetal malformations
Increases the risk of infection
Disrupts sexual performance
Increases the risk of violence of all kinds – domestic and international, murder, suicide, rape, and battery
Increases accidents of all kinds – at work, in the home, on the road
Yes, it makes sleep harder, more discontinuous, and less restful.
Drug Sleep Versus Natural Sleep
Wine presses have recently been discovered that are 6100 years old. People have been drinking a very long time, and they enjoy the biological and social effects of alcohol a lot. The overall health effects, whether on cirrhosis or sleep, are not uppermost in most people’s minds when they walk into a restaurant or bar.
Yet drug induced sleep is not the same as the natural kind. There are many reasons to use sleeping pills – particularly when those “sleeping pills” are also providing antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects.
However, obtaining truly natural sleep is not one of them. Alcohol can make it easier to “fall” asleep – but the sleep induced is not normal, and rarely is fully normal whenever pills are used to induce sleep.
Alcohol wakes you up more often. It disrupts the processes leading to sleep stages like deep sleep and REM, critical to memory processing and learning. It leaves you feeling tired on waking up, making it more difficult to get through the next day.
Regeneration is necessary health and survival. Sleep is a big part of that process.
Sleep is broken up by alcohol, particularly with prolonged use – whether you’re man or woman.
So when you drink late at night, think about what alcohol can do – to your driving, your personality, your ability to learn, think, and fight off infection.
Do you really want to disrupt your body’s natural regeneration?
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news