Do you use an alcoholic drink or two to calm down in the evenings or even as a natural sleep aid to help you fall asleep faster? You’re not alone. Across the UK, more people than ever with sleep and anxiety issues are turning to alcohol to help them unwind. You might think that the sedative effects of an alcoholic tipple or two are making you sleepy, but the facts show that drinking alcohol and a good night’s rest are a completely incompatible combination.
Why is it a bad idea to use alcohol as a sleep aid, and what effect does it have on your body? Let’s dig into the facts below.
The Problem with Alcohol and Sleep
A glass (or four) of wine before bed might convince you that you’re about to fall into a deep sleep, but the truth is that drinking alcohol before bed negatively affects your quality of rest instead. A literature review of 27 studies shows that while alcoholic drinks might help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, they reduce overall rapid eye movements (REM) sleep.
This is no small matter. REM sleep typically occurs within the first two hours of falling asleep, and it’s the stage of sleep that leads to dreaming and general brain restoration. Without enough REM sleep at night, you’re likely to feel extra tired the next day and not function as well.
Worse still - it’s likely you’ll be exhausted but sleep is unlikely to come, so you get into a vicious cycle of needing alcohol to sleep and you definitely don’t want to get into the territory of needing alcohol.
In other words, a whiskey sleep aid might cause you to crash at night, but you’ll feel less rested the next day and sleep will become even more difficult.
Why is this? Let’s look at the effects of alcohol on your system to find out.
How alcohol affects the body and why it shouldn't be used as a sleep aid
Alcohol is a fast-acting substance that floods your bloodstream within minutes of drinking it. When you are using alcohol to self-medicate and help you fall asleep faster, it acts as a stimulant that floods your brain with feel-good chemicals called endorphins that leave you feeling confident and less inhibited.
As the buzz begins to wear off, you’ll experience a sedative effect that leaves you drowsy. During this stage, alcohol can induce sleep quickly, but it tends to be easily disrupted and low quality, especially during the second half of the night. Likewise, alcohol can slow down or even suppress your breathing at night, causing you to develop sleep apnea.
The more drinks you have before bed, the stronger the disruptive effects will be. Some of the side effects of alcohol-induced slumber include the following:
- Higher chance of sweating: Drinking alcohol triggers vasodilation, which causes your blood vessels to widen, allowing more blood to pool closer to the surface of your skin. As skin heats up, it triggers your sweat glands to begin cooling you off, which is why you might wake up drenched in sweat after a night of drinking.
- More snoring: Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant, meaning that it can cause a range of unexpected side effects like snoring. For instance, sleep apnea is a breathing disorder caused by the collapse of the muscles in your throat and airways, and alcohol can trigger this condition. This means that you might snore more than usual after a night of heavy drinking, even if you’ve never had a breathing problem before.
- Higher frequency of urination: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes you to urinate more than you would from drinking the same amount of another liquid. One study shows that every gram of alcohol you take in increases urine excretion by 10ml. This is because alcohol suppresses an anti-diuretic hormone that regulates the water absorption levels. When the levels are low, your kidneys put more water in the bladder so you feel the urge to pee.
- Fewer dreams: Researchers still aren’t sure what leads to dreaming, but the evidence shows that they play an essential role in maintaining healthy brain functioning by replenishing and resetting vital brain chemicals. Dreaming only happens during REM sleep, and drinking alcohol will prevent you from reaching this critical stage.
Over the counter drugs and alcohol: a dangerous combination
Some people take alcohol sedative effects one step further by combining their drinks with sleeping pills. Nytol and alcohol and Sominex and alcohol (two popular over the counter drugs in the UK) are increasingly common combinations that people take to help them nod off faster. Not only is this ineffective for quality sleep, but it can trigger dangerous side effects.
That’s because mixing sleeping pills and alcohol will enhance the effects of both, giving you a dangerously strong sedation effect. Some common side effects of combining the two include:
- Impaired motor functioning
- Slowed breathing
- Memory impairment
- Cardiac arrest
Emergency room visits for sleeping pill and alcohol are rising, and research from Brown University reveals that upwards of 60 percent of people who take prescription drugs that shouldn’t be combined with alcohol (including sleeping pills) still drink anyway.
Why mixing Piriton and other anti-histamine drugs and alcohol is a dangerous idea
Piriton (active ingredient: Chlorphenamine) is a well-known and much used antihistamine brand in the UK and it proves extremely effective for allergies. This is a powerful drug (as are other OTC antihistamines) that when combined with alcohol have a potent effect and will make you feel extremely sleepy.
Piriton and other anti-histamine drugs should never be combined with alcohol as a sleep aid because it won’t enable the quality of sleep necessary to enable the body to function well and has the following potentially dangerous side effects:
- Extreme drowsiness, dizziness and sickness
- Impairment in thinking and judgement
- Drowsiness the following morning
Combining the two over time will have negative impact on live and cardiovascular functions.
Natural alternatives for sleep instead
There are better ways to fall asleep without turning to alcohol. Adopting better sleep habits can improve your rest, including the following:
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed
- Reserve your room for sleep alone so you aren’t distracted when you’re in it
- Keep your room a colder temperature
- Set regular sleeping hours for weekdays and weekends alike
One of the most effective ways to improve your sleep is by combining a healthy sleep routine with taking an all-natural sleep aid supplement with ingredients formulated to help you through the three stages of sleep: falling asleep, improved quality of sleep (staying asleep) and feeling wakeful and refreshed the next day.
Neuro Rest: The best ingredients for better sleep
Most people know that melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycles by causing you to feel tired once the lights go out, but few realise how much more of an impact the compound can have when it’s combined with natural ingredients that promote serotonin production, calm your mind, and even regulate your thyroid.
To combine these ingredients in a single supplement, Utmost Me developed Neuro Rest, a potent sleep aid that gives you the benefits of natural melatonin through a Melo-Fruit® blend that includes Montmorency cherry extract with other beneficial compounds like taurine, tryptophan, 5-HTP, magnesium, biotin, and more. This supplement will put you to sleep, and, unlike with alcohol, you’ll be better for it.
Try Neuro Rest today, and you’ll soon remember how quality sleep really feels.