We have all heard the term “nightcap.” The fact that a drink before bed has its own popular term shows us that a drink or two at night can help induce sleep. However, what happens to the body after the effects of alcohol help you fall asleep? While consuming alcohol before bed can be an easy way to overcome the feeling of anxiety and stress that can cause insomnia, the damaging effects to your restfulness and health can be serious.
Alcohol Interrupts Your Brain Waves and Circadian Rhythms
Consuming alcohol before going to sleep increases your slow-wave brain sleep patterns, called delta activity. This sort of brain activity causes deep restorative sleep, which sounds like a good thing; however, those who consume alcohol experience alpha-delta sleep. Unlike delta waves that cause deep sleep, alpha waves are present when you are resting quietly or in a state of quiet meditation. When these two states occur simultaneously, restorative sleep is compromised. This is the reason that alcohol makes you fall asleep quickly, but then you become restless or wakeful in the middle of the night.
Another reason this occurs is that alcohol produces an increased amount of adenosine in the brain, a chemical that induces sleep quickly. But adenosine leaves the brain as fast as it enters causing you to wake up before you’ve truly rested.
Alcohol Blocks REM Sleep
It has long been asserted that REM sleep is the most restorative form of sleep. REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep and occurs in 90 minute cycles throughout the night. But with excessive alcohol consumption REM sleep never occurs. Failure to achieve REM sleep can cause one to feel confused, groggy, and less focused throughout the day.
Alcohol Can Aggravate Breathing and Health Problems
Alcohol causes the whole body to relax including the muscles of the throat.This can aggravate any preexisting problems such as snoring or sleep apnea, which interrupt healthy sleep. The interruption of circadian rhythms also affects the functions of the liver and the gut, which both rely on these healthy rhythms to function properly. If these naturally occurring rhythms are interrupted it can lead to serious health problems including liver toxicity and leaky gut syndrome.
Alcohol can be a seemingly easy way to induce sleep and escape from stress and anxiety before bedtime. The negative effects of alcohol on sleep, however, should push us to explore not only how alcohol hurts our sleep patterns and our bodies, but also to find alternative healthy methods to help us fall asleep.
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