Does your nighttime routine include pouring a drink before heading off to bed? Having a nightcap is nothing out of the ordinary—in fact, most people don’t think twice about it. Alcohol helps you sleep better anyway, right? Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol on sleep are more complex than most people realize, and that evening scotch or late-night glass of wine could be having profound effects on your sleep and subsequently, your health.
Understanding Alcohol and Sleep
There are different phases of the sleep cycle, and these are easily disrupted by alcohol because of the way that alcohol interacts with certain neurotransmitters. Alcohol can block REM sleep—the most restorative type of sleep—and it triggers alpha activity in the brain, which is not normal for the sleep cycle. This type of activity tends to occur normally during quiet rest rather than full sleep. As a result, alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it will also have you sleeping more erratically, missing out on the rest you need. Depending on how much you drink, it may also wake you throughout the night for frequent bathroom trips.
Rethinking Nightly Habits
So, do you need to abandon your nightcap completely to get restful sleep? Ideally, you shouldn’t drink before bedtime. However, you can still sleep well if you move the nightcap up a few hours before bedtime and keep the drink pour small. Your body can only metabolize about a quarter ounce of alcohol per hour, so it takes time to adjust and get back to a normal state suitable for restorative sleep. Having a cup of decaf tea or even just a glass of water before bed can be a much better way to finish off your evening.
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