Are you a bad sleeper? Even a little alcohol break might help


How many alcoholic drinks does it take to ruin a good night’s sleep?

This is a question we ask a lot of Twin Cities sleep educator Sarah Moe. Customers are generally not satisfied when they hear his response.

Dry January

Join our challenge to quit alcohol in January and you might gain some sleep, energy, and even some extra spending money.

“The answer is one,” said Moe, founder of Sleep Health Specialists.

Sleep disorders affect our health from our mood to our heart. And alcohol plays a major role in these struggles. A 2020 survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that one in five American adults often loses sleep through alcohol consumption.

“Alcohol has a huge impact on sleep,” said Dr. Michael Howell, a sleep medicine physician with Twin Cities.

Those of us who do not consume alcohol as part of a wellness experience supported by Star Tribune for Dry January will likely find that a break from alcohol can quickly improve both quality and quality. amount of our rest.

“A dry January will without a doubt, especially over the course of a month, lead to better, healthier, more restful sleep,” Howell said. “Especially when combined with exercise and healthy eating.”

“This impact on your sleep is going to be very, very quick and very, very positive,” agreed Moe.

The speed depends on your habits before 2022.

“If we have entered this realm of heavy drinking, it may take longer to see a change in the quality of our sleep,” Moe said. “So the first three or four nights, you can expect to feel almost anxious and a headache. After that third or fourth night of a dry January, sleep will start to repair itself.”

(Note: If you drink a lot on a daily basis, suddenly going without alcohol can lead to withdrawal, which can be dangerous. If this describes your drinking, please seek professional help.)

The negatives of a nightcap

Alcohol has a disproportionate impact on our rest because it worsens sleep in several ways.

Even a moderate amount of alcohol can interfere with melatonin production; disturb the stages of sleep, circadian rhythms and your internal clock; wake you up to use the bathroom; and even trigger or worsen disorders like sleep apnea, sleepwalking and insomnia.

This may seem counterintuitive, as humans consume alcohol to relax and fall asleep long before the British coined the term “nightcap” in the 1800s. But those who consume a drink for relaxing before bed ends up paying the price with fragmented sleep a few hours later.

“It’s initially sedating. But it’s very quickly metabolized by your liver,” Howell explained.

About four hours after you drink a nightcap and doze off, your liver has done its job. But alcohol metabolites can make you more restless – and can even trigger nightmares – because they can wake you from the REM phase of sleep, when most people are vividly dreaming.

“A lot of people will describe having what some would call nightmares, but most people just say they have pretty few frustrating or distressing dream fragments,” Howell said.

And waking up in distress in the middle of the night usually means trouble.

“It can be a miserable experience. Very few people have ever laid awake in a dark room and looked at the ceiling and thought about how beautiful their life was,” Howell added.

Even if you’re not awake for long periods of time, alcohol can keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep that are most important, Moe said.

“Alcohol consumption keeps our bodies from going into deeper and more restful phases of sleep,” she said. “These are the stages where our bodies heal from being awake every day, and with alcohol consumption keeping us from entering those stages, we wake up feeling unrefreshed.”

If a nightcap has been a part of your bedtime routine for a long time, continue working out through the dry month of January, but replace it with a mocktail or other non-alcoholic drink, Moe suggested.

Go from bad to worse

In addition to disturbing our brains while we are drowsy, alcohol also has a physical impact on sleep: it can cause excessive relaxation of the muscles in the head, neck and throat. This creates airway problems that can lead to sleep apnea, a disorder that involves repeatedly stopping and restarting your breathing.

“With a little alcohol, someone who doesn’t snore at all will snore, someone who just snores will suddenly have mild sleep apnea,” Howell said. “Someone who has mild sleep apnea will have moderate sleep apnea, someone who has moderate sleep apnea will have severe sleep apnea. And that’s just with alcohol in moderation. “

What if you haven’t been drinking alcohol, but you’re not sleeping better? Drying off for a month may reveal that you have an underlying sleep problem, such as insomnia, a circadian rhythm problem, or restless leg syndrome. A sleep doctor can probably help, Howell said.

And knowing more about your sleep is a step in the right direction.

Moe took a dry walk a few years ago. She found more benefits than improved sleep, she said.

“What I noticed the fastest was my skin. I felt like I looked younger in two weeks,” she said. “So there are benefits far beyond improved sleep that will flow from this challenge. Brightening up your skin, more energy during the day, more focus, more productivity, all of those really great things that come with it. “

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