Will alcohol really help you sleep?

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If you’ve ever had a couple of drinks, you know that alcohol can make you drowsy. But can it really help you sleep? It seems like an almost contradictory question. If we know alcohol can make you fall asleep easier, then it follows that it would be a sleep aid. Of course, saying alcohol has healthy sleep benefits doesn’t exactly sound right either. So which is it? One recent study by researchers at the University of Melbourne and California’s Human Sleep Research Program aimed to put the contradictions to rest.

A beer before bed?

Probably not the best option. However, it’s important to find the scientific evidence before making any assumptions. With their work published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, scientists examined what happened when 24 participants (half male, half female, all between 18 and 21) drank a little alcohol before bed compared with drinking a placebo.

Those imbibing actual alcohol had a BAC measured at an average of 0.084%, or slightly above the legal limit for driving. During sleep the researchers measured the brain waves created by the different stages of sleep.

Compared to those drinking a placebo, they found that alcohol may initially act as a sedative make falling asleep easier, however, it caused disruption during the actual resting period.

A hangover of a different sort

What does that mean? To understand, it helps to understand proper sleep hygiene and the fact that quantity of sleep is not the same as quality. Even if you get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night, if you’re brain isn’t getting enough quality time in the deeper, more recuperative stages of sleep, you won’t wake up as well rested.

Whether you have an exam or just need to be alert at the office, the study shows that alcohol is potentially going to hurt. You actually have a sort of mild hangover, even if there’s no nausea or headache. This is a similar situation to how energy drinks sap your energy.

According to Christian L. Nicholas, the National Health & Medical Research Council Peter Doherty Research Fellow in the Sleep Research Laboratory at The University of Melbourne, “If sleep is being disrupted regularly by pre-sleep alcohol consumption, particularly over long periods of time, this could have significant detrimental effects on daytime well-being and neurocognitive function such as learning and memory processes.”

OK, no alcohol before bed. What now?

There are plenty of ways to help yourself fall asleep easier without taking sleeping pills (which are no long-term remedy). Studies have shown that eating right, especially minimizing sugar intake, can help you rest better. Aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve sleep as well as tons of other benefits.

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