How alcohol affects your sleep
It’s been a hectic work week, you met your deadlines and exceeded all expectations. Now what you need is a few drinks with your workmates and an early night.
Several G&Ts later, you feel mellowed. Homeward for a bite to eat and that long-awaited shower. By 10pm you’re in the sack.
At 11.45 p.m. you’re wide awake. You drift off again, only to spend the rest of the night dozing fitfully and watching that blasted radio clock. The next morning is a crabby affair involving gritty eyes and plenty of coffee.
There are few things more pleasurable – and healthy – than a solid night’s sleep. So why, even when you’re bone-weary, do you sometimes end up tossing and turning and longing for dawn?
Alcohol a double-edged sword
Part of the reason may be the booze. Alcohol in moderation can help you sleep. It can certainly help you relax. But alcohol’s a double-edged sword: it’s a diuretic, which means that it depletes your body of fluids. So even if you’ve been sipping scotch, rather than quaffing pints of beer, you’ll be getting up to pee regularly through the night.
Your kidneys take about an hour to process a unit of alcohol, so if you have four units before 10 p.m., your body will be dealing with them four hours later, and you’ll be getting up to urinate at 2 a.m.
Drinking lots of water helps your body recover from drinking, but your bladder will disrupt your plans for a sojourn in the land of nod.
It’s also believed that booze helps you sleep deeply, suppressing the REM-phase of sleep. As the night progresses and the levels of alcohol in your bloodstream diminish, your brain compensates for its deficit of REM sleep, resulting in dreams, which may be vivid enough to wake you.
Alcohol also contains sugar, which affects your blood-sugar levels and mental activity. This is common knowledge. What may be less well known is that sugar depletes the body of magnesium, which plays a major role in muscle control.
Your muscles need calcium to contract and magnesium to relax, so when your body lacks either, you’ll feel restless.
Taking a supplement in the form of the tissue salt Mag Phos before turning in may help your sleep. Chamomile, peppermint and dandelion all contain magnesium ? all of which can be drunk as tea.
You can also eat or drink something that contains plenty of magnesium. Chocolate has plenty, but it’s also replete with sugar and caffeine, so don’t go there. Try snacking on an apple, plum, banana, tangerine or grapefruit, or some walnuts or almonds.
In his book “The Food Doctor in the City”, clinical nutritionist Ian Marber says that the process of sleeping is triggered by the amino acid tryptophan. This competes with the other amino acids in the bloodstream to cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that protects the brain from toxins.
Tryptophan is found in some foods, including cottage cheese, bananas, peanuts, dried dates and turkey.
Marber recommends the following bed-time snacks:
- Banana milkshake with a little tofu blended in
- Cottage cheese and oats or rice cakes
- Dates and cottage cheese
- A handful of almonds and a piece of fruit
- Sunflower seeds and a banana
- Rye bread with a slice of turkey
He says that when tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier it prevents other amino acids ? which might stimulate the brain and keep you awake – from blocking your way to dreamland.
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