One of the most common misconceptions about getting to sleep (and staying to sleep) is that a nightcap will help you sleep better.
I think that everyone subconsciously knows alcohol isn’t good for sleep.
But if you’ve ever found yourself nodding off after a glass of wine, it’s easy to believe that alcohol actually helps you sleep better.
Well, it’s not true.
At least not according to a new study on alcohol and sleep quality.
Finnish researchers recently published a study analyzing what happens to the restorative quality of your sleep after you’ve had alcohol. The results aren’t going to make many imbibers happy.
In a study, these researchers assessed just how well a person sleeps on a night where they had alcohol and a night where they did not.
Unique to this study is the researchers analyzed HRV recordings. HRV recordings are advanced recordings of basic biological functions like the variations in time between heartbeats (variations which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system).
The reason these specific recordings are so important has to do with how they record the effect alcohol has on our nervous system.
These HRV measurements gave researchers the ability to assess the quality of the participants’ restful state.
In this experiment, the scientists examined the participants’ first 3 hours of sleep after drinking alcohol.
They also broke down the amount a person had to drink into 3 categories.
Light, moderate and heavy drinking.
The results of what happened after you drank and went to sleep were pretty surprising (and not that pleasant to read about).
As Medical News Today wrote in their study synopsis:
“The study revealed that alcohol reduced the restorative quality of sleep. Specifically, a low alcohol intake decreased the physiological recovery that sleep normally provides by 9.3 percent.
Even as little as one drink was shown to impair sleep quality. Moderate alcohol consumption lowered restorative sleep quality by 24 percent, and high alcohol intake by as much as 39.2 percent.
These results were similar for men and women, and alcohol consumption affected sedentary and active people alike.
Interestingly, the harmful effects of alcohol were more pronounced among young people compared with seniors.
Study co-author Tero Myllymäki, a professor in the department of Sports Technology and Exercise Physiology at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, comments on the findings, saying
“When you’re physically active, or younger, it’s easy, natural even, to feel like you’re invincible.”
However, the evidence shows that despite being young and active you’re still susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol on recovery when you are asleep.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of sleep, in terms of both quality and quantity,” adds Myllymäki.
While we may not always be able to add hours to our sleep time, with insight into how our behaviors influence the restorative quality of our sleep we can learn to sleep more efficiently. A small change, as long as it’s the right one, can have a big impact.’ “
So where does that leave us? In a place where alcohol should never be enjoyed?
To be perfectly honest, I’d say the verdict isn’t clear on risk of alcohol consumption.
There are a number of studies that indicate light consumption of wine and some beers can be beneficial to the body.
There are also a number of studies that implicate light alcohol consumption to a myriad of health problems.
I’d say if you’re going to drink, do so sparingly.
Stick to wine, or dark beers.
And understand that boozing for a good night sleep is not a real solution for getting to sleep fast – or staying asleep for long.