It’s not uncommon for some people, especially on the weekends and around the holidays, to party a bit more and hit the bed after a night of drinking alcohol.
When this happens, most people find they’re dragging the next day, both physically and mentally. They tire easily, have shorter attention spans and often find it difficult to make decisions as easily as on days where they didn’t drink the night before. Is the fogginess just a hangover, or is there something else at play?
While a few drinks before bed may make it easier to fall asleep faster, alcohol disrupts the body’s regular sleep cycle and, in fact, makes the body more active during the night. As a result, neither the mind or the body gets the amount of sleep it needs and leaves people feeling sluggish and out of sorts.
How Does Alcohol Disrupt Sleep?
After the equivalent of four or more beers, here are some of the issues that reduce the quality of sleep:
- Increased Heart Rate: alcohol depresses the central nervous system, which makes it easier to fall asleep in the first half of the night, but as the body processes the booze, it increases the heart rate during the second half of the evening
- Loss of Dream Sleep: during a sober night’s rest, the body cycles between deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, in which the brain essentially de-frags itself like a computer hard drive for clearer thinking the next day. Both types of sleep are vital for feeling refreshed, but a night of drinking makes it difficult or impossible for the body to get into REM sleep, leaving a person feeling foggy and tired the next day
- Attack of the Snoring Monster: an excess of alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat and upper neck, increasing the likelihood of snoring, which not only effects the snorer’s sleep, but anyone else within ear-shot
- Frequent Urination and Perspiration: because the body is working to process the alcohol during sleep, it elevates the heart rate and leads to night sweats and a bladder that needs to be emptied. Good sleep health requires six to eight hours of continuous sleep, which drinking alcohol before bed makes nearly impossible
Insufficient Sleep is Detrimental to Overall Health
Regular drinking can become habitual and makes it harder to get to sleep than without drinking. Here, a person might find that they’ve developed a dependency to alcohol and unwittingly starting an unhealthy cycle that can lead to alcohol dependence or alcoholism.
In fact, for people recovering from an alcohol dependence, reestablishing sleep health is key, because good sleep eases symptoms of depression, fatigue and improves concentration and decision making abilities.
The American ethic has generally been one of “you can sleep when you’re dead,” but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared insufficient sleep a public health crisis. The government agency estimates that 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. suffer from of sleep or wakefulness disorders.
Having the odd night out with a few drinks is inevitable for some people, but make sure a majority of sleep is sober and restful. Good sleep health is a precursor to overall health.
If getting to bed without a nightcap is impossible, it might be time to seek help for an underlying dependence on alcohol.