by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Why Drinking Alcohol Could Be Keeping You Up at Night

We get Dr Rachel Chan of WhiteCoat to shed light on whether that nightcap you had could, in fact, lead to a night of restless sleep.

You probably enjoy the occasional cocktail with friends, or a glass of wine before bed, thinking it may help you fall asleep faster. But it can actually end up robbing you of a good night’s sleep. 

“Although some people may feel that they are able to fall asleep more quickly after consuming alcohol, the overall effects of alcohol on sleep quality suggest otherwise,” says Dr Rachel Chan, a family doctor and the Deputy Physician Manager at telemedicine service WhiteCoat.

So can alcohol help you sleep or does it disrupt it?

If you have alcohol in your system when you hit the hay, you may not sleep very deeply, or for very long. That’s because as alcohol starts to metabolise, the sedative effect wears off.

If you feel sleepy after a glass of wine, it’s likely due to the fact that alcohol causes the body to produce more adenosine, a chemical that functions as a sleep-inducer. However, if you have alcohol in your system when you get to bed, you may wake up throughout the night. “The chemical adenosine quickly subsides after falling asleep, which is why many people may experience interrupted sleep after drinking alcohol,” explains Dr Rachel.

Alcohol also interferes with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a restorative stage of sleep that usually takes place for about 90 minutes after falling asleep. When REM sleep is disrupted, you will definitely feel its effects throughout the day after waking up; you might have a hard time concentrating at work or need more coffee to keep your energy up. 

According to Dr Rachel, the general consensus is to stop at 1 to 2 drinks for minimal sleep disruption.

Is there any alcohol that helps you sleep better?

This one is a firm no. “While alcohol may help with inducing sleep, quality of sleep is compromised and long-term reliance may lead to alcohol dependency. As such, alcohol should not be considered as a sleep aid,” explains Dr Rachel.

Instead of turning to alcohol, Dr Rachel suggests considering other options like warm milk, chamomile tea or even cherry juice. These alternatives contain components scientifically proven to naturally promote better sleep. Of course, if sleep-related issues persist, it may be time to seek medical advice from your GP. 

How can we sleep better after drinking?

Since alcohol is a diuretic that dehydrates the body, it is important to make sure you drink water as you enjoy your wine. “Avoid consuming beverages with a high caffeine content (such as energy drinks and coffee). More importantly, strive towards cutting alcohol from your diet if you are vulnerable to sleep-related difficulties,” recommends Dr Rachel. 

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