How Alcohol Affects Sleep
You would think that the sedative effects of alcohol would promote deeper sleep and aid falling asleep but, no. Sleep studies show that drinking alcohol and a good night’s rest are a completely incompatible combination.
Why? The science part....
A literature review of 27 studies shows that while alcoholic drinks might help you fall asleep faster, they impact your sleep cycle by reducing overall rapid eye movement (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.
This chart shows the impact that alcohol can have on a regular sleep cycle - so that's why we wake up more if we've had alcohol the night before, and why we struggle with tiredness the next day.
Worse still - keep up the nighttime alcohol routine and it’s likely you’ll be exhausted but sleep is unlikely to come, so you may get into a vicious cycle of needing alcohol to sleep and that’s not a good thing.
A fitful night’s rest
When you drink before bed, it’s likely you will wake up needing the toilet. Alcohol is a diuretic and encourages the body to lose extra fluid through sweat causing dehydration. Drinking alcohol also makes you snore loudly because it relaxes the muscles in your throat, mouth and nose. All in all - not a good night’s sleep.
There are better ways to fall asleep without turning to alcohol. Putting in to practise the better sleep habits you have learnt through this course can improve your rest helping you to have a better night's sleep and wake up with more energy to face the day ahead.
How To Exercise For A Better Night's Sleep
Regular exercise is great for sleep. Just make sure you don’t exercise too soon before bed, as it will have the opposite effect! At least 2-3 hours before bed is a good time to exercise.
Why? The science part....
Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature promotes falling asleep, as our bodies need to cool down before we can sleep.
Exercise also aids falling asleep because it releases endorphins which make us feel more content and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Finally, exercise strengthens our circadian rhythms (body clocks) by promoting daytime alertness and helping bring on sleepiness at night.
We recommend exercising no later than 2-3 hours before bed because, when we exercise, we produce adrenaline which is a stimulant and could interfere with falling asleep. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to unwind before heading to bed.
Activities that get your heart rate up (including running, a brisk walk, cycling, and swimming) have been shown to improve sleep. Even small bouts, such as 10 minutes, may help, though the goal is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
Yoga’s relaxing poses and stretches, as well as the calming breathing exercises that accompany them, may be especially helpful if stress is what’s keeping you from falling asleep.
Other Lifestyle Factors To Consider
Melatonin imbalances are largely responsible for sleep disturbances, and it’s strongly influenced by day length, artificial light, electromagnetic energy as well as stress and overwork. If you are still on your computer, tablet or phone late in the evening, it will be affecting your ability to fall asleep.
Artificial light at bedtime suppresses the body’s production of natural melatonin, more so than any other artificial light source. This is very problematic because, as we explained back in module 1, light is an important factor in managing our circadian rhythm (our internal sleep clock).
Our pineal gland is sensitive to light. If it senses light, especially blue light like electronics use, it’ll stop producing melatonin. Our bodies were designed to go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up when the sun rises. The advent of artificial light has largely contributed to people who have trouble sleeping.
Ideally you would switch off from screens an hour before bed, but we can all be guilty of that one last social media scroll of the day!
Alternatively, if you have an iPhone you can adjust your screen settings to make the display have more of a warm glow (Flux is a free app for non-iPhone users that has the same effect). They mimic the natural setting of the sun and block the blue light emitted from your screen which has been shown to have a worse effect on melatonin production than red light. So if you absolutely HAVE to look at your phone before bed, it won’t be as bright and blue.
Aaaah, our good friend caffeine! Most of us rely on the morning and afternoon lift that caffeine gives us and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that but too much caffeine (more than 3 cups of coffee a day) or caffeine after 2pm in the afternoon and we have ourselves a sleep detractor.
Why? The science part...
Caffeine is a stimulant drug (hence why we love it so much in the morning). Caffeine promotes alertness by blocking Adenosine. Adenosine is a substance in your body that promotes sleepiness and by blocking it, Caffeine stops you from feeling sleepy.
One study also found that caffeine can delay the timing of your body clock which reduces your total sleep time. Caffeine also can reduce the amount of deep, quality sleep necessary for muscle and brain recovery.
Limit caffeine to three cups a day - whether that’s tea, coffee or carbonated drinks. Drinking caffeine six hours before bed can shave off an hour of quality sleep, so we also recommend zero caffeine after 2pm to ensure it doesn’t impact your sleep.
Smoking and sleep are not good bedfellows. Smoking can affect your sleep because the active ingredient, nicotine is a stimulant that can make it difficult to fall asleep if you consume it too close to bedtime.
Nicotine can also cause you to wake up with middle-of-the-night cravings, impacting your sleep cycle and therefore your natural circadian rhythm.
In a research study, it was shown that smokers take longer to fall asleep (called the sleep latency), sleep less, and have less deep sleep (called slow-wave sleep). Those who have never smoked seem to have better sleep quality overall, however.
If you’re looking to quit smoking, visit: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/ for support.