I’ve lost count of the number of times I had a huge night out, collapsed into bed, slept for the next 12 hours then risen feeling more tired than when I hit the hay. Why? I used to think alcohol and sleep were a great combination. Generally after a huge night I’d be out like a light from the moment my head hit the pillow…and apparently that’s half the problem!
Sleeping patterns are affected by alcohol
When we fall asleep, we first go through a period of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, then into a deep sleep. Over the course of a good night’s sleep a person will go through around seven REM cycles, designed to de-clog the brain for optimum memory and concentration, in readiness for the day ahead.
If you’ve had a few drinks before going to bed, you miss this crucial initial REM phase and go straight into a deep sleep. I used to think that was awesome, but the reality is far different. Deep sleep is the period when the body heals itself, but as your body processes alcohol and the effects start to wear off after a few hours, you come out of the deep sleep phase and back into the REM phase. It’s much easier to wake from the REM phase which is why, despite not not getting into bed until 3am, you wake at 8am because you need to go to the toilet and are unable to get back to sleep.
So while the first half of your sleep might be great for deep sleep healing, the second half of your sleep is often disrupted as you frequently wake up. Therefore you don’t enjoy the number of REM phases, or get the amount of deep sleep needed to be fully restored and refreshed.
Alcohol and sleep and snoring…
Alcohol is a depressant which causes your muscles to relax more than usual. This includes the muscle tissue in your throat, nose and mouth, stopping the natural flow of air into and out of your body. This in turn causes snoring that leaves you, and anyone else within earshot, to have a disrupted night’s sleep. If you’re already a big snorer, then a night on the booze will elevate you to world-class levels. For people who don’t normally snore like me, drinking has a nasty habit of turning you into one of the best. After a big night I never realised I snored because I was in a deep sleep for half the night, but my wife sure did…yikes!!!
Alcohol and sleep and peeing…
Alcohol is a diuretic, which encourages the body to lose as much fluid as possible. Alcohol and sleep don’t mix because you end up going to the toilet several times during the night, not to mention the excess sweating. Now you know why you wake up feeling like the Sahara has relocated to you mouth when you wake up, and your disrupted sleep means you haven’t had enough of those deep sleep cycles your body needs to recover.
Slow down my beating heart
While your heart might have been racing after spotting the future husband or wife across the bar through your beer goggles earlier in the night, the last thing you need is an elevated heart rate while you sleep. During your boozey sleep when your body should be in recovery mode, the nervous system is still active and your heart rate stays elevated. Because sleep is the time when your sympathetic nervous system (the bit that keeps you alert during the day) is supposed to shut down and rest, this will come back to haunt you when you wake up.
It used to take me days to recover from a big night out. First it was the horrible night’s sleep and the hangover the following day, then a couple of days of lethargy as my body tried to catch up on the sleep and rest it missed out on earlier. Clearly alcohol and sleep are a terrible combination.
If you are going to have a few drinks but want a good night’s sleep, you have to finish drinking well before you plan on going to bed. Generally speaking your body processes one standard drink per hour, so if you’ve had five standard drinks in a two hour period, you might want to wait another three hours before going to bed. That means starting earlier, finishing earlier, then enjoying a movie before it’s time for lights out.
Alternatively, just don’t drink. That way you can go to bed when you want and have a much better chance of waking up the next day feeling fantastic and ready to hit the ground running.