We all know the feeling of pleasure and relaxation we get from a glass of good wine or other drinks, and of course the feeling of drowsiness that can hit as soon as our glass is empty. Sometimes we find ourselves asleep on the sofa in the living room, and sometimes we even deliberately get a little drunk, knowing that it will help us fall asleep faster. But, once we’ve switched OFF, the alcohol turns ON, and with it come a number of side effects. Asking yourself 'why can't I sleep?' here's what you need to know about how alcohol affects your sleep.
Alcohol's effects on sleep
A study conducted at the University of Melbourne examined the complex relationship between alcohol and sleep. While It found a strong connection between drinking alcohol before sleep, and increase in delta waves in the brain ,which are associated with restorative sleep, it also found an increase in alpha waves, which are associated with wakefulness. The activity of the alpha and delta waves together causes sleep deprivation. Earlier studies had also associated patterns of alpha waves during sleep with daytime fatigue, non-restorative sleep, headaches and anxiety the next day.
When we drink alcohol, there is an increase in the production of adenosine, a chemical that is associated with reduced alertness, helping us fall asleep quickly. The problem is that it dissipates just as quickly, increasing the likelihood to wake up during the night. Another reason for lower sleep quality after alcohol consumption is that it shortens REM sleep, making us more likely to feel exhausted when waking up. Drinking alcohol also causes the body’s muscles to relax, including the muscles in the throat, which can result in snoring and sleep apnea.
Caffeine – the most common drug in the world
It’s found in many foods and drinks, and many use it to combat daily fatigue – to make them feel more alert in the morning or concentrate better during a busy day. Although it’s certainly not a substitute for sleep, a decent cup of coffee can temporarily make us feel more alive. The magic happens when caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the central nervous system, which expand the blood vessels and make us feel sleepy. The caffeine confuses the brain into thinking that it’s in a state of emergency, causing it to release adrenalin which accelerates our heart rate, raises our metabolism, and increases our physical stamina.
Caffeine's effects on sleep
If you're wondering how to fall asleep fast, or faster than you're used to, start paying attention to your caffeine consumption. In controlling how alert we are, caffeine also affects our sleep: we all know that a cup of coffee just before nighttime can keep us wide awake; caffeine is absorbed from our digestive system into our blood stream and crosses the blood-brain-barrier where it competes with Adenosine, by binding to the same receptors but not producing the same effect, thereby blocking its sleep promoting influence. Sometimes we consume caffeine when we need to stay alert, but do not take into consideration that it may also harm our sleep by making it harder to fall asleep, reducing sleep intensity and quality, and even total sleep time.
How to enjoy alcohol and caffeine and still maintain quality sleep?
The answer is simple: drink wisely. While it’s true that having a glass of wine at dinner can be healthy, and having a beer with friends can be wonderful, be aware of the amount you’re drinking and when. Try to limit alcohol to 3 or 4 hours before bedtime, depending on how much it affects you.
As for caffeine, Schedule coffee breaks for the morning and afternoon and avoid them at least a few hours before bedtime. If you drink coffee regularly and can’t get through the day without a few full cups, it could be worth checking whether behind this habit lies a genuine sleep problem that’s leaving you feeling exhausted, and dependent on caffeine as a stimulant to get you through the day.
Dayzz sleep app guides you on how to improve sleep by providing a tailored sleep training plan which includes fun tips, customized challenges and of course daily reminders, so you know exactly when to have your last cup of coffee for the day. Start by getting your quick sleep assessment!