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   Dec 13

How a glass of wine before bed wreaks havoc with your sleep: Alcohol disrupts body’s internal timer and triggers insomnia

Bedtime alcohol does initially induce sleep, but leads to poorer quality rest

It interferes with sleep homeostasis – the body’s internal sleep-regulator

Over time, regular drinking can lead to withdrawal symptoms and insomnia

Doctors warn alcohol might help you drop off, but it disrupts sleep and leads to a poorer night’s rest

Many of us indulge in a tipple before bedtime to relax – or even help us sleep.

But doctors now warn a nightcap may not be such a good idea.

While glass of wine at night may help you drop off, the alcohol disrupts sleep and leads to a poorer night’s rest, they say.

This is because drinking alcohol to fall asleep interferes with sleep homeostasis – the body’s internal timer that regulates sleeping and waking.

Over time, regular drinking can even lead to withdrawal symptoms and insomnia, they found.

They concluded that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.

The team of doctors, from the University of Missouri School of Medicine, U.S., studied alcohol’s effects on sleep for more than five years.

Dr Mahesh Thakkar, who led the research, said: ‘The prevailing thought was that alcohol promotes sleep by changing a person’s circadian rhythm – the body’s built-in 24-hour clock.

‘However, we discovered that alcohol actually promotes sleep by affecting a person’s sleep homeostasis – the brain’s built-in mechanism that regulates your sleepiness and wakefulness.’

Sleep homeostasis balances the body’s need for sleep in relation to how long a person has already been awake.

If an individual loses sleep, the body produces adenosine, a naturally occurring substance that increases their need for sleep and causes them to drop off.

When a person goes to sleep early, sleep homeostasis is shifted and they may wake up in the middle of the night or early morning.

The researchers found that alcohol alters the sleep homeostatic mechanism and puts pressure on an individual to sleep.

When this happens, the sleep period is shifted, and a person may experience disrupted sleep and wake up earlier.

As alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes the body to expel water, it causes people to need to go to the bathroom, therefore waking up earlier in the morning.

In addition to studying alcohol’s impact on sleep homeostasis, the researchers explored how alcohol withdrawal affects sleep.

They found after extended periods of frequent drinking, subjects would fall asleep as expected, but would wake within a few hours and would be unable to fall back asleep.

When the subjects were not given alcohol, the researchers found they showed symptoms of insomnia.

After regularly drinking before bed, researchers found people suffered alcohol withdrawal when the stopped drinking. When trying to sleep, they showed symptoms of insomnia

‘During acute alcohol withdrawal, subjects displayed a significant increase in wakefulness with a reduction in rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement sleep,’ Dr Thakkar said.

‘This caused insomnia-like symptoms and suggests an impaired sleep homeostasis.’

He added: ‘If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, don’t use alcohol. Talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping.

‘These factors can then be addressed with individualized treatments.’

The researchers hope to use these findings to explore other effects of alcohol consumption.

The study was published in the journal Alcohol.


Dr Sohere Roked, a leading holistic doctor who specialises in tiredness, shares her tips for a good night’s kip…

1. Nuts such as Brazil nuts and walnuts induce sleep due to being packed with protein, potassium and selenium and can help the body make melatonin, the natural sleep hormone.

2. Eat salad with your evening meal. Lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties and relaxes the brain.

3. Your body needs vitamin B6 to help make melatonin and serotonin. Foods rich in B6 are fish like tuna, halibut and salmon, as well as raw garlic and pistachio nuts.

Bananas and warm milk aid sleep as they release natural chemicals to relax the body

4. Certain foods with a high glycaemic index, such as bread and pasta, can induce sleep. This is because after eating them you have a natural spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels, and after this spike you can feel tired.

5. Chamomile tea contains glycine, which relaxes nerves and muscles and can act as a mild sedative, reducing any anxiety.

6. Consider making 2pm your cut-off time for caffeinated drinks if you’re having trouble sleeping.

7. Turn off your TV/computer/smartphone an hour before you go to bed – light from electrical appliances stimulates the brain.

8. Take at least 30 minutes to wind down before bed – listen to relaxing music and use the time to take stock of your day.

9. Take a hot bath. Sleep is normally preceded by a drop in body temperature.

10. Warm, skimmed milk aids sleep, as do bananas. Both release natural chemicals to relax the body and help you fall asleep due to their calcium content. They also both contain tryptophan.

Source: Daily Mail

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