THE average adult sleeps 7.5 to 8 hours every night. Lack of sleep can have serious consequences, including increased risk of depressive disorders, impaired breathing, and heart disease. In addition, excessive daytime sleepiness resulting from sleep disturbance is associated with memory deficits, impaired social and occupational function, and car crashes.
Although alcohol does have a natural sedative effect, sleep experts agree that there is a real and distinct difference between falling asleep quickly and sleeping well. Alcohol use prior to sleep, or even in the evening, can lead to sleep patterns that are more shallow than deep, meaning we are not getting that deep restful sleep we need. Not only is the sleep more shallow, but those who drink also wake up much more frequently at night, and have trouble falling back to sleep. This means the overall amount of sleep is decreased when someone drinks.
It’s also important to note that, because there is less deep sleep, there are fewer dreams. However, once the alcohol wears off, the dream state will return – but often the brain isn’t able to keep up with the sudden return of the dream state (there is a sensory overload) and this results in an increase in nightmares. These nightmares will further make sleep more restless.
Drinking can also mean you have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. And it’s not just the liquid you’ve drunk you’ll be getting rid of. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid too, making you dehydrated. Drinking can also cause heartburn, making you wake in the night.
Studies show that even moderate amounts of alcohol, roughly three bottles of beer or three standard one-once drinks consisting of hard alcohol (and once again, who are we kidding – our male relatives don’t typically just have one-once shots), consumed as much as six hours before bed, may inhibit quality of sleep.
So next time you’re not sleeping well, think about what you can do to get your sleeping pattern back on track – but stay away from the booze. Consider instead the following: create a soothing environment in your bedroom – make sure it’s cool and uncluttered, and your bed is comfortable; stay away from caffeine in the evening – try a hot milk instead; keep regular hours – going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will program your body to sleep better; have a relaxing and calming warm shower or bath in the evening prior to bedtime; exercise during the day to relieve the day’s stresses and strains – but not too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake; let your brain relax – deal with worries or a heavy workload by making lists of things to be tackled the next day, so they’re not swimming around in your head. Using alcohol to help you sleep will ultimately create more problems than it will solve.
Gary Thandi, MSW RSW, Doctor of Education candidate, is a Special Columnist with The VOICE. He writes about emotional wellness and social justice issues as they relate to South Asian communities. He is also head of Moving Forward Family Services that provides counselling and support services to anyone who wants it – without any waits. No one, regardless of their financial circumstances, will be turned away. Services are offered in English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Cantonese, Farsi, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Vietnamese. To access services, call or text 778-321-3054 or email him at: