Booze Before You Snooze, The Truth Behind the Night Cap – If you haven’t heard of “The Night Cap,” an alcoholic beverage that will knock you into dreamland, you might be living under a rock. Although this can work as a type of sedative and induce sleepiness, it can dramatically affect the quality of sleep, causing more interrupted sleep and morning grogginess. Avid users are more susceptible to increasing insomnia and other chronic sleeping issues.
The truth is alcohol has been proven to increase upper airway resistance, which, in turn, causes an increase in snoring, may induce sleep apnea, and cause fragmented sleep… whether you are aware of it or not. Alcohol has been shown to over-relax the throat muscles and narrow the airway. One of the biggest complaints of alcohol consumption is insomnia, as it is short-lived and causes you to wake up prematurely and struggle to fall back to sleep in some cases. Because of these interruptions, it interferes with the REM cycle by suppressing it and may cause a REM rebound as the alcohol level starts to drop.
Glutamine, an amino acid, is no longer being produced when you consume alcohol because it is used as a depressant to initiate sleepiness; however, this doesn’t stop your body from using it. Once the alcohol starts to wear off as you sleep, the body starts to produce glutamine again and in force, which is our body’s natural stimulant. There has also been evidence that alcohol actually disrupts the release of melatonin in the brain, a hormone that plays a role in sleep and the internal clock. For instance, regular alcohol consumption that results in a morning hangover has been compared to Jet Lag, as both similarly alter the circadian rhythm, the sleep/wake cycle.
So why do so many swear by it and keep doing it? The reality is that alcohol induces sleep, and those who need to shut their minds off find this an easy way of getting the job done quickly. However, including this in a nighttime routine can not only create a dependency, but it can alter your sleep architecture as you may wake up more frequently, throwing your whole window of sleeping opportunity down the hole. Alcohol is also a diuretic that will increase the urge to urinate during the night. So, you may use this “nightcap” technique to fall asleep quickly, but not without a price.
After a crappy night’s sleep, most may load up on caffeine to function during the day with the small increments of sleep they were allowed during the alcohol withdrawal. So, what about those rumors of “a glass of red wine won’t hurt; it’s healthy for you”? One glass of wine is usually okay, depending on your medical background; however, it should be consumed at least four hours before bed to let the effects wear off before you are in a deep sleep, not during it.
Another essential fact about boozing before you snooze is the body’s temperature control. Have you ever noticed that if you drink before you sleep, you wake up sweaty? The body needs to lose at least 1 degree Celsius or 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit to get good sleep throughout the night. Alcohol influences thermoregulation and blocks your body from losing heat, which could cause you to wake up with a soaking pillow of sweat. Also, depending on what you ate and how close to bedtime you did, it makes it more difficult for the body to maintain an appropriate temperature as it tries to burn calories from both alcohol and recent food consumption.
It has been proven through research that those who have insomnia due to alcohol consumption may increase the risks of other health issues, which include anxiety, depression, fatigue, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Nightcaps have also been reported to trigger sleepwalking and sleep talking, leaving a person more vulnerable to injury, disruptive sleep and daytime fatigue.
Now that some of you may be wondering what to do as an alternative, the hard fact is that it may take some time to reroute your bedtime routine to a healthier option if you have developed a dependency. It may interfere with your ability to fall asleep right away. If this is something you experience, give yourself some time to adjust and include some other options like chamomile tea, valerian root, melatonin and meditation and/or breathing exercises. Any habit can be formed, whether it is good or bad. To make it an unconscious habit, you need to be repetitive with the same routine for at least 30 days. This technique was taught in a hypnosis program I went through, as it is designed to help reprogram the brain.
To conclude, If you are adding alcohol to sleep aids, this is not a safe practice as it further complicates our ability to maintain an open airway while we sleep. Please be sure to always include your primary care or sleep provider when adding alcohol to any sleep aid and be aware of the risks. This also includes any alternative options or over-the-counter medications.
If you need help improving your sleep and need council, visit my website and let’s chat.
Read more from our Executive Contributor, Dr. Tawnie.