Many people enjoy a “nightcap” before going to bed. Traditional nightcaps include brandy, bourbon, or cream-based liqueurs, though some people drink wine or beer or just about any other alcoholic beverage before bed as well. The New York Times has even published some “rules” to help you pick the right nightcap. The question is, though, does alcohol consumption before bed actually improve your chances of a good night’s sleep?
Research On Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep
Recently, the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism have conducted a review of all known studies on the impact of drinking on sleep, the results of which will be published in the official journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. According to this New York Times’ article, the review finds that while alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly and may lead to deeper sleep at the start of the night, it isn’t actually useful for improving a whole night’s sleep.
The review shows that any amount of alcohol consumption leads to an immediate reduction in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It also leads to deeper sleep for the first part of the night, with higher doses leading to even deeper sleep yet. However, these benefits are offset by increased disruption in the second part of the night’s sleep, and less REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep influences memory and cognitive abilities, and a lack of sufficient REM sleep can lead to a reduction in motor skills, concentration, and memory. Alcohol consumption greatly delays the onset of the first period of REM sleep in a night, as well as reducing the total amount of REM sleep. Delayed and reduced REM sleep has been linked to less restful sleep, stress, and even depression.
Alcohol Effects the Brain and the Various Levels of Sleep
Even the deeper early sleep may prove problematic for some individuals. The majority of studies show an increase in slow-wave sleep (the deepest sleep) in the first part of the night. This increase in slow-wave sleep may also lead to an increased likelihood of sleep problems like sleep apnea or sleepwalking, as well as promoting snoring and poor breathing.
For the most part, the review finds that, while many people use alcohol as a sleep aid, a nightcap really only provides an illusion of improving sleep. Though you may fall asleep more quickly and easily, your total sleep will be less restful, and you open yourself up to other possible risks.
The Effect of Alcohol on Sleep, is one of many resources designed to help those seeking an advanced approach to treatment for alcohol or drug abuse.