Sleep and Alcohol
I often introduce my riffs on sleep by saying, “and now the bad news.”
This blog continues the tradition!
I know most people participate in social experiences that are partly driven by the consumption of alcohol.
One marked indicator of this in my memory is how, as a college freshman, I saw beer posters all over the walls of my friend’s dorm rooms. I’d been studying ancient India—with a religion that worshipped a mysterious drug called Soma. Seeing these numerous Sam Adams, Budweiser and Miller icons, I said to myself, “We’ve got a cult of beer here.”
Sure, there’s rare individuals who don’t drink, and a few more who never socialize around drinking, but to draw the general lines of it, we could say our whole “cult-ure” is a cult of alcohol. We contribute $250 billion a year to the institution. We celebrate it; we refine our tastes toward it; we build communal experiences around it.
That’s why, if sleep and alcohol are our topic, this will be a “bad news” blog for most.
Don’t try the sleep-alchohol mixer, folks. Many of us believe that alcohol is an aid to sleep. Here’s three reasons why it’s not:
- Research tells us sleeping after drinking is more like anesthesia—and that’s important. As the researcher, Matthew Walker tells us, achohol delivers you to sedation—a state that mimics sleep but gives few of sleep’s critical benefits (see our Sleep Guide to understand the benefits of sleep better)
- What’s worse, as the sedation wears off, and you end up waking up in fits and starts all night. But because sedation’s still partly at work, you forget these tiny “wakings.” You think you’re sleeping well, but it’s an illusion.
The next morning, you’re unrefreshed and have been cheated from the vast health benefits of effective sleep.
- And the badder bad: The metabolism of alcohol creates aldehyde—a chemical that blocks your brain from REM sleep. Without REM sleep, we get increased inflammatory responses, increased risk for obesity, and an erosion of memory.
This is all bad news--but it is very good news to have.
And it’s not the whole tale of the relationship—but my whole message is that you should keep drinking—if you like it—for what’s best in it.
Every choice is a trade-off—and life would be lesser without “wine and song,” as the saying goes. Drink wisely. Keep it social and controlled. Carouse with your friends.
But don’t do it night upon night—or too much—and never drink yourself to sleep.
We’ll touch on this topic more next week.
Just making sleep better,