Tossing and turning is the worst, which is why so many of us indulge in a bevvy to conk out faster. But a new study in the journal Alcohol suggests we’re not doing ourselves any favors — in fact, we’re just making it harder to fall asleep.
Sure, alcohol makes a glorious sedative in the short-term, but researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found that boozing it up to ride the sleep train interferes with our sleep homeostasis — the brain’s built-in system for regulating our need for sleep — and can actually cause insomnia over time.
Sleep homeostasis balances your body’s need for sleep in relation to how long you’ve been awake. During waking hours, your bod produces adenosine (a sleep-regulating substance that builds up in your blood), then breaks it down during shuteye. It essentially works as your body’s sleep gauge. The perma-groggy feeling you get on no sleep is thanks to the adenosine you didn’t have the chance to burn off.
But when you hoover a glass of wine to fall asleep faster, the alcohol messes with your sleep gauge and pressures you to saw logs before you’re naturally ready. Not only does this shift your sleep pattern, but it locks you into the lighter stages of sleep. (Hence the whole waking-up-too-soon thing once your nightcap wears off.) Long story short: repeatedly drinking before bedtime means the only REM you’ll be enjoying is the band.
“Based on our results, it’s clear that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid,” study author Pradeep Sahota, MD, chair of the MU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology said in a statement. “Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases your need to go to the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning.”
If you feel like you can’t get to sleep without your vino, it could be thanks to the withdrawal you experience without it. Researchers found that after extended periods of drinking, subjects would fall asleep quickly, but would wake up again in a few hours and wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep — and when they tried to sleep sans alcohol, they showed symptomatic insomnia.
“During acute alcohol withdrawal, subjects displayed a significant increase in wakefulness with a reduction in rapid eye movement and non-rapid movement sleep,” study author Mahesh Thakkar, Ph.D., associate professor and director of research in the MU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology said in a statement. “This caused insomnia-like symptoms and suggests an impaired sleep homeostasis.”
Alcohol: 1. Sleep: 0.
It’s time to ditch the sauce and even the score, don’tcha think?