After a swinging Saturday night at the bars, few things feel better than your head hitting the pillow for a good night’s rest. But as easy as it is to fall asleep under the relaxing influence of alcohol, the substance is only creating the illusion of sweet slumber.
As everyone over the age of 30 well knows, once you wake up from an alcohol-induced repose (usually between 2 and 4am) fueled by a deranged level of thirst, it’s especially hard to get back to sleep. Being the curious minds we are, we decided to dive into the science behind why alcohol is such a bedtime buzzkill. So read on, and if you find that this happens to you often, consider cutting back on the booze. And if that doesn’t work, be sure to memorize these 10 Genius Tricks for Falling Back Asleep in the Middle of the Night.
The Body Processes Alcohol While We Sleep
In reality, drinking alcohol before bedtime is the cause of many a restless night—studies show that an average of 55 percent of alcoholics suffer from insomnia. Why? As we sleep, our body is working hard to process the alcohol in our system, and once it’s out, something signals us to wake up. Doctors aren’t quite sure why the body does this, but their theory is that the brain chemicals that stir us awake are triggered once the alcohol is done being processed.
“Depending on your metabolism, alcohol is going to leave your system after a few hours,” sleep doctor Damien Stevens explained to Time. “When that happens, you wake up.”
Alcohol Is Technically A Drug
“Alcohol is a depressant, which can help somebody feel like it’s relaxing them and helping them to fall asleep,” Charlene Gamaldo, MD, explained to Everyday Health. “But alcohol is also rapidly metabolized in your system and, when your body washes the alcohol out, it’s more likely to cause what we call a rebound alertness.”
This rebound alertness, as its known, is precisely what disrupts our REM sleep, the restorative phase of sleep that helps us store memories and even learn new information. People often forget that alcohol is technically a drug, and our body has to work in overtime to process its effects.
Alcohol Makes You Go to the Bathroom—A Lot
There are also some other, slightly more obvious reasons why alcohol makes us restless. After a few glasses of Chardonnay, the body is working hard to metabolize all that alcohol, which means that your bladder is filling up fast and begs to be emptied. Not to mention that alcohol dehydrates you, so your body will attempt to wake you up for a big glass of water.
The Body Needs Time To Process The Alcohol
If you do plan on drinking, try to take your last sip well before you hit the hay. Studies have shown that drinking in the evening is associated with increased restlessness compared to drinking earlier in the day. As Michael K. Breus, Ph.D., explained in Phycology Today: “Alcohol consumption, in excess or too close to bedtime, diminishes the quality of sleep, often leads to more waking throughout the night, and lessens time spent in REM sleep and slow wave sleep in later parts of the night.” And for more great health advice, know that You Can Lose This Much Weight by Getting More Sleep.
A Little Alcohol Goes A Long Way
If you do want to drink something to calm yourself right before bed, there is hope yet: Research shows that a drink before bed (capped at just one) can improve sleep quality and duration. So long as you don’t overdo it, your REM will be A-OK.
For more tips on sleeping soundly, check out these 70 Tips For Your Best Sleep Ever.
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