Alcohol – Myths and Facts
One of the most common sleep myths is the effects of alcohol and its relaxing qualities. The correlations between drinking and sleeping can be hard to understand, as it is true that having a nightcap makes it easier to fall asleep. However, there is a darker side to this seemingly harmless habit.
Alcohol is a relaxing substance that cripples your nervous system. Even in small amounts, alcohol is overpowering the parts of your brain that controls your behaviors and impulse control. We tend to become more social and more relaxed and liberated. When alcohol has stayed in our bodies longer, it starts to affect other parts of the brain, and we begin to feel sleepy as the brain functions get slower. In this case, alcohol works as an anesthetic.
The sleep that occurs after alcohol consumption is not natural, and it has nature closer to a sleep that is aid by medicine. Alcohol also makes sleep discontinuous, and it is not restful. In the mornings, you rarely remember that you were waking up during your sleep, and often you can’t connect the dots between the morning and daytime tiredness, and the nightcap enjoyed the night before. Even the slightest bit of alcohol can disrupt your rest.
Alcohol affects your sleep stages. Alcohol increases deeper sleep stages and makes the night unbalance and, making alcohol the most effective way to decrease your REM sleep. REM sleep is responsible for learning and creating memories, and during REM sleep, your dreams are the most vivid. In this case, it is crucial to have enough REM sleep during the night. Studies have shown that consuming alcohol after a day of studying or learning new skills has severe consequences in memorizing the learned knowledge afterward. Alcohol has a similar effect to your memory even a few days after you have had your studies!
Example Habits to try:
Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 539-549.
Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Simon and Schuster.